Chew on This: Durham's Parker and Otis a favorite spot to buy cookbooks

04/01/2014 8:00 PM

04/01/2014 11:01 PM

The Triangle is blessed with a plethora of bookstores, both independent and national chains, many of which have excellent cookbook selections.

But my favorite place to browse for cookbooks may surprise you: Parker and Otis, the combination restaurant, coffee house, wine store and gift shop in Durham.

Owner Jennings Brody previously worked for Williams-Sonoma and Foster’s Market in Durham and later spent six years selling gourmet food and candy to retailers. In 2007, she opened Parker and Otis, in the former Fowler’s Fine Wine and Food Store location on Duke Street.

It’s my kind of place: I can get something good to eat and drink and then shop for tasty things to take home to eat and drink later. Of particular interest to me as a mother of a toddler, it also has children’s books, toys and clothes.

But the part of the store where I spend the most time is the cookbook section.

It’s not as if I need any more cookbooks. I am overwhelmed by cookbooks; six arrived in the mail as I wrote this column. Right now, more than 100 new cookbooks are on or under my desk. I have cabinets at the office full of cookbooks, both classic tomes and a fairly complete collection of those by local authors. I also have a pretty big personal collection – to my husband’s dismay, since we live in a 1,236-square-foot house.

But I always find cookbooks at Parker and Otis that I haven’t seen, that I want to read while sipping a latte, that I want to buy and sneak into the house, hoping my husband won’t notice. Brody has a keen eye for cookbooks and the selection reflects the store’s philosophy. She explained: “This is how I think about the store: me curating everything that I love.”

Brody said her customers are looking for cookbooks all along the spectrum. There are shoppers looking for books for beginning cooks. Her suggestions: anything in the “Leon” series and “Keys to the Kitchen: The Essential Reference for Becoming a More Accomplished, Adventurous Cook,” by Aida Mollenkamp (Chronicle Books, 2012).

There are chefs and cookbook geeks looking for the latest books from the food world’s superstars, so Brody makes sure to have at least a few copies of “Manresa: An Edible Reflection,” by David Kinch (Ten Speed Press, 2013) and “René Redzepi: A Work in Progress” by René Redzepi (Phaidon Press, 2013).

What makes Brody so good at selecting cookbooks is that she so clearly loves them. Her own 1,400-square-foot home is full of them. “It’s bad,” she said.

Instead of a book club, she belongs to a cookbook club with five girlfriends. About once every six weeks, they gather to drink wine and dine on the five or six dishes they have made from one cookbook. Recent selections have included “Jamie’s Food Revolution,” by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, 2011) and “Seasonal Recipes from the Garden,” by P. Allen Smith (Clarkson Potter, 2011).

Brody doesn’t even have to cook from a cookbook to enjoy it. When Chapel Hill chef Bill Smith’s “Seasoned in the South,” was published, Brody said: “I got into bed. I read the book. I love that.”

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