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Philly chef's huge cookbook collection is university-bound

January 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Some people who visit the acclaimed restaurant Deux Cheminees come for more than chef Fritz Blank's cuisine -- they come for his books.

The Philadelphia mainstay that offers some of the city's finest dining also houses an impressive culinary collection that includes about 15,000 volumes: cookbooks, periodicals, menus and memorabilia.

As Blank, 64, winds down his involvement with Deux Cheminees ("Two Fireplaces," in French), the University of Pennsylvania is preparing to acquire a good portion of his library.

Since opening Deux Cheminees in 1979, Blank has built a reputation for upscale French cuisine served in an intimate environment. One of the restaurant's five dining rooms is the chef's library. Shelves are filled with French and Italian cookbooks and hundreds of issues of Gourmet magazine from 1943 to 1990.

But across the hall is the real library, which Blank proudly shows to anyone who asks. Towering bookcases hold titles such as "An Illustrated Guide to Shrimp of the World," "The All-American Cookie" and "Country Scrapple: An American Tradition" (for which Blank wrote the introduction).

Penn librarian Lynne Farrington is still taking inventory.

"At this point, I just know it's huge," said Farrington, curator of printed books for the university's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

In all, Penn could acquire about 10,000 items, including cookbooks dating to 1678 and 1747, she said.

Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, honorary curator of the culinary collection at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library, said gastronomy is an important part of any culture's history.

"Food is something that is part of everybody's life every day," said Wheaton, who has known Blank for about 15 years. "We really exhibit who we are and where we come from and the circumstances we're in by the food choices we are able to make."

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