Nach Waxman, the heart and soul of Manhattan’s culinary bookstore Kitchen Arts & Letters, passed away today. The hearts of the food world and food lovers are heavy.
Beloved cookbook expert and food historian, Nach Waxman, passed away suddenly on August 4 in New York City, and much of the world, culinary and beyond, is at a loss.
Waxman founded Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore in 1983, at a time when it was the only one of its kind in Manhattan. He was a leader among those who valued cookbooks and the knowledge of culture, society, and history they offered. Having worked in publishing for years, Waxman knew the importance of culinary history and the stories of those who shaped the evolution of food.
After growing up in southern New Jersey, Waxman studied anthropology at Cornell University and did graduate work at the University of Chicago before transferring to the Ph.D. program in anthropology at Harvard University. While there, he specialized in South Asian studies. After three years, he decided against a life in academia and chose book publishing, working as an editor.
But he didn’t completely leave that life behind. His role in the Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was still that of a teacher and reference for every volume under that roof. “He was the dean of food letters,” says Leite’s Culinaria founder David Leite, acknowledging just how much passion and enthusiasm Nach Waxman had for the culinary arts. “I remember sitting with him at a conference, and he was reiterating the need for more, and more diversified, Portuguese cookbooks, which played a role in my writing The New Portuguese Table.” He was a gatekeeper and a guide for many, from people who just wanted to read cookbooks to those who were seeking a specific, hard-to-find gastronomic work.
Waxman’s passion for food and everything related made him, and his bookstore, a bastion for like-minded souls who had culinary questions, were hungrily searching for something new, or just wanted to talk to a like-minded person. In a 1995 New York Times interview, Waxman recounted as a particularly grateful customer leaves the store, “The nice thing about this business is you don’t have to be adored. Just useful.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Nach Waxman was adored. He was always excited about the books he curated and the work he did and easily spread his infectious enthusiasm. He’ll be remembered for his steadfast encouragement of excellent writing and his never-ending respect of cooks and readers–of all levels. His intellectual depth and curiosity never excluded others; rather he encouraged people to search out new ideas and, especially, new ways to connect to food.
For someone who loved cookbooks as much as he did, he was quite vocal about rarely following a recipe. However, he was, and always will be, linked to a brisket recipe that bears his name. A brisket recipe that uses the traditions of both his mother and grandmother and was first made famous in “The New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. Waxman knew food culture and he knew brisket.
Waxman felt that recipes weren’t the whole story. How food connects us–to our culture, to our family, to our community, and to the world–is an important issue. He will be remembered for many things, among them enthusiasm, curiosity, suspenders, and his championing of food writing.
We extend our sincerest condolences to Nach’s family, friends, and business partner, Matt Sartwell.