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All words by Elsie Yang

2020 has thrown more than its fair share of trials and tribulations our way. But in the face of ongoing crisis, we have also been particularly fortunate to see the genesis of truly remarkable creativity — a veritable corenaissance, if you’ll forgive the bad pun. The District especially has experienced a range of new business openings — from restaurants to hotels to book stores — that have reminded us that we have plenty to be thankful for, and plenty of support even in the midst of a pandemic. 

We recently caught up with the owner of the newly opened Bold Fork Books in Mt. Pleasant, a delightful independent bookshop specializing in cookbooks, and as such, an absolute must-see destination for all your holiday shopping needs. Check out what owner Clementine Thomas had to say about the opening of the daring new project, why the pandemic has been particularly conducive to the opening of certain new businesses, and what to keep an eye out for (cookbook-wise) as we head into the gifting season. 

BYT: What was the impetus for opening Bold Folks, especially given the pandemic? 

Clementine Thomas: The concept for Bold Fork Books had been percolating for a long time. Cookbooks have always been a big part of my life – Julia Child was basically a member of my family growing up. Over the years, I’ve found myself turning to cookbooks for different reasons – for instruction in the kitchen, for inspiration, for knowledge about an unfamiliar cuisine or culture, for comfort. I’ve also found that cookbooks can be a wonderful point of connection, especially in DC where we have such a vibrant and passionate food community. People love to talk about their favorite cookbooks, swap their favorite recipes, share the names of food writers they love. 

After visiting Appetite for Books, a cookbook store in Montreal, the idea of opening a culinary bookshop in DC really started to take shape. I’ve spent my career working in DC restaurants and I wanted to create a space that would bring together the city’s food community – from beginning home cooks to restaurant professionals – around the books and writers that inspire them. 

As horrific as this pandemic has been, it’s also the reason why Bold Fork Books was able to expand from a pop-up to a brick & mortar shop. Almost everyone is cooking at home more and looking for inspiration. People are also thinking more critically than ever before about the writers they allow into the kitchen with them. The pandemic is also the reason why the space sharing arrangement with our friends Pear Plum Cafe came about. Sharing the space has enabled them to maintain their bakery operations in the back half while I’ve opened the bookshop in the front. It’s given both of our businesses safety and flexibility at a time when everything is so uncertain. 

BYT: Have you noticed an uptick in locals looking to support local businesses in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

CT: Yes! It’s been really heartening to hear so many of our guests say that they’re committed to shopping locally, especially for this upcoming holiday season. The Mt. Pleasant community has been incredibly supportive and in just over a month of business we’ve already had repeat customers. It means everything to us. 

BYT: What cookbooks (or books in general) would you recommend for gifting this holiday season? 

CT: This has been a really exciting year for cookbooks. So many great titles have come out on everything from savory pies to American cheese. These are some of the books I’m most excited about: 

In Bibi’s Kitchen (Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen) – An exploration of the cuisine of eight eastern African countries told through the recipes and stories of grandmothers (or bibi’s). This is a gorgeous book written with so much love about a region that is sadly underrepresented in the cookbook world. 

The Flavor Equation (Nik Sharma) – A deep and delicious dive into the science of flavor. Nik brings his background in biochemistry to the table as he explores the deceptively simple question of why things taste the way they do. His writing is accessible and engaging and the wonderful, sometimes surprising, recipes serve as illustrations of the scientific concepts at the book’s core. 

Mosquito Supper Club (Melissa M. Martin) – A Cajun cookbook that came out this past spring. It’s a stunningly photographed love letter to the Louisiana bayou – it’s people, it’s culture, and it’s food. It’s also a stark reminder of just how much we stand to lose as the bayou disappears. 

Baking at the 20th Century Cafe (Michelle Polzine) – The first cookbook from the celebrated pastry chef behind San Francisco’s beloved 20th Century Cafe. Michelle specializes in the legendary sweet and savory baking recipes of Central & Eastern Europe – think linzer tortes and rugelach. The book is full of gorgeous photography (including step-by-step tutorials) and infused with Michelle’s playful, light-hearted style. Perfect for adventurous bakers! 

Good Drinks (Julia Bainbridge) – A book dedicated to alcohol-free drinks. I love the ethos behind this book – that no matter the reason you’re not drinking alcohol, you still deserve to drink well. Curated by bartenders from across the US, the recipes are sophisticated and interesting. This is one for drinkers & non-drinkers alike!  p.s. check out Julia at BYT’s Zero Proof Event this Sunday as part of DC COCKTAIL WEEK. 

The Man Who Ate Too Much (John Birdsall) – A new biography of the iconic American food personality, James Beard. This deeply researched book paints a complex and intimate portrait of the beloved figure. Beard’s queer identity figures prominently as John explores the impact his sexuality had on his life and career. A fascinating, compelling read. 

BYT: What has surprised you the most about doing business during the pandemic? What have you learned? 

CT: Because we opened during the pandemic, all of the various covid restrictions and safety precautions are already baked into the way we do business. We are lucky in the sense that we didn’t have to pivot from another way of doing things though we’re very cognizant that this could change at any moment. What we’ve been surprised by is just how wonderfully supportive and flexible our community has been. 

In my experience opening restaurants, there’s a real sense of performance to it – meaning that, by the time the doors open for the first time, the expectation is that the food and service are as polished and flawless as possible. The experience of opening Bold Fork has been quite different. We’re living in a time when everyone is really figuring things out as we go in almost every aspect of our lives. People have been so patient and encouraging as we refine our systems and flesh out our inventory while simultaneously navigating an unpredictable and, frankly, scary time. It’s been really rewarding to engage guests in the process – finding out their favorite writers, asking for cookbook recommendations, and getting feedback on which recipes work and which don’t.  

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Featured image via Bold Fork Books

3064 Mt. Pleasant St. NW

Wed-Fri 12p-6p
Sat 11a-6p
Sun 11a-5p

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