My New Cookbook Shelf

Let’s pretend that I have a boyfriend (or partner or whatever it is you prefer I call him, you touchy readers you) named Craig and let’s pretend that Craig, one day last year, bought a designer bookshelf from H.D. Buttercup in Culver City. The bookshelf, in this story, was so heavy you couldn’t lift it and so important to Craig that it remained in our bedroom, virtually empty, for a year. We’d talk about the things we might put on it (“What about a vase?” “No, I hate vases,” Craig might reply) but never actually put anything on it except the one time I put a bunch of my favorite paperbacks on the top shelf and they looked incredibly feeble and minuscule in this giant bookcase. “You know,” I may have said, if this story were real, which–to be honest–it is, “what would look really good on it?” “What?” “Cookbooks.”

Craig wasn’t convinced, the subject was dropped, and the bookshelf remained empty until this past week when we moved from Franklin Village to Atwater Village and Craig complained about my vast cookbook collection (“complained” is too gentle a word; “ranted” is more like it”) and I began a campaign to put this vast collection in the only place it made sense: his precious bookshelf. Which would otherwise still be empty. Which would fit perfectly in our new kitchen next to the refrigerator. Which was designed, almost perfectly, to hold cookbooks.

After careful and merciless campaigning, I won out. The shelf was placed next to the fridge yesterday afternoon by movers who, undoubtedly, marveled at my ingenuity. “What a marvelous place for a cookbook shelf!” they probably said to themselves. “Now we have to go move a piano.”

The kitchen, at the end of the day yesterday, was a shambles…with boxes spilling over.


A more sensible man would’ve started by unpacking the kitchen first and designing the bookshelf later. I am not a sensible man. This morning I woke up and it was time to put this shelf together.

So here’s what I did: I unpacked all my cookbooks. There were piles upon piles. I studied them all and considered my last strategy which was to put Italian cookbooks with Italian cookbooks, French cookbooks with French cookbooks, etc. That strategy was kind of boring to me.

So here’s what I came up with: the shelf that was eye level (2nd from the top)? That would be for MVP cookbooks. The books that I love the most and use the most often. Here, then, is the shelf that resulted (with a stack of smaller MVP books in front).


We’re talking the biggies here: Zuni Cafe, All About Braising, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, April Bloomfield’s book with the dead pig on the cover. These are the books I reach for again and again. They’re the best. This shelf makes a lot of sense and goes from tallest books, on the left, to shortest books on the right.

So what goes on the top shelf? Shouldn’t that be the MVP shelf?

No, no!

The top shelf is for curiosity cookbooks.

“Come again?”

Curiosity cookbooks…meaning books that are either: beautiful or fascinating or beautiful and fascinating or just plain quirky. Check it out.


So we’re talking: the Coco Book, the Momofuku book, The Fat Duck Cookbook, The Anita Bryant Cookbook (that’s what’s on top of that little stack). These are the books that start conversations, that people will want to pull from when they come over to hang out in the kitchen. Some of them are definitely books I will cook from (Burma, Around My French Table) others are just to thumb through (The Two Fat Ladies Cookbook, The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook) but all of them are fun, interesting, and among the most unique in my collection. That’s why they’re there.

Let’s talk about what’s on the tippy top: the TOMES.


That’s the Keller collection (minus French Laundry which I stupidly sold to the Strand many moons ago) and A Day at El Bulli which we were given as a gift when we ate there, also many moons ago.

Now on to the 3rd shelf, the one below the MVP shelf. This is basically the “everything else” shelf which shouldn’t be a source of shame for anyone who happens to be on the “everything else” shelf. These are books that I still love and cook from; if I didn’t love and cook from these books, they would’ve gone out with the last batch of books I sold to a used book store. These just aren’t MVP books. Maybe some of them will move up in the next year. We’ll see.


As for the pile in front, those are all food memoirs with recipes. The rest of my food books (that’s a separate box of my Trillins, Steingartens, etc.) still have to be dealt with.

So what’s on the bottom shelf? On the left: dessert/baking books and on the right assorted specialty books.


On the left you have everything from Desserts By Pierre Herme to Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts and on the right you have books on canning, cheese-making, etc. The pile in front is just a random assortment of specialty books.

And thus a bookshelf that had no purpose, that had no meaning to its existence is now flourishing in our new kitchen. Even Craig (who hasn’t seen it yet) will have to admit that this shelf has finally come into its own, its a small child who’s grown up to become a nuclear physicist. Except instead of doing nuclear physics, it’s storing cookbooks in our kitchen.

47 thoughts on “My New Cookbook Shelf”

  1. I catch no end of grief from my DH over the size of my cookbook collection. (I had 2 sets of shelves built in my kitchen just to contain them all) “Who could possibly need so many cook books?” he says. “you don’t even use them all!” How lovely to know I’m not alone in my view of cookbooks as collecter’s items. Your collection is a thing of beauty, and organizational strategy matches my own! (Is it wrong to rearrange your cookbooks for fun? I don’t think so.) i think it’s time to buy another shelf…

  2. jenn from much to my delight

    I could spend HOURS sitting in your kitchen, by the window, flipping through that beautiful collection. I read cookbooks in bed, like novels. I’d love room for a shelf like that in my nyc kitchen!

  3. I love seeing how people organize their shelves! I keep my cookbooks with my design books, and separate my hardcover novels from the paperbacks, with each descending in height from left to right. It is my dream to one day have enough books to do a color-coded bookshelf.

  4. This is a great post. I loved your organizational thinking. I have a daughter who organizes her books by the color of the binding, makes for a beautiful statement. I tend to organize my cookbooks by genre (by ethnicity, type of food, a to z cookbooks like Amanda Hessers NYTimes Cookbook, and picture book books like Thomas Keller’s), but I am tempted to reorganize to follow your organization. I still would love to have a dedicated bookshelf under the coutertops, behind glass, to showcase and use my books. Where do you put your nonrecipe,food writing books?

    1. Adam Amateur Gourmet

      Hi Dominique, not sure about those books yet… either in the dining room, in the hutch, or in the office with the rest of the cookbooks.

  5. Anyone who lives with a combination serious cook and food writer should be prepared to live with a lot of cookbooks. I have two entire bookshelves {one for cookbooks and one for food writing} and part of a third filled with my collection.

  6. Two comments.

    Its an ugly as sin bookshelf.

    We also went through the same challenge with cookbooks and they ended up on a wired kitchen shelf in the kitchen.

  7. Well since I’m a book blogger, I ADORE this post. And that shelf (you must tell Craig) is fabulous. Perfect blend of steel and wood. Beautiful!

  8. Perfect. Absolutely perfect! I don’t see The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. You do have it don’t you? Because you must.

  9. You are insane!! It must be horrible to live your life. My sympathies to you and everyone who has to be around you.

    1. You rock on, Normal guy – after all, there’s certainly nothing more sane than directing rude anonymous comments to people you don’t know. And of course, Adam’s life *must* be horrible, being a published author, in a loving relationship with an attractive, successful partner, who gets to live his life’s dream pretty much every day.

    2. Stephanie Doublait

      Keep all your sympathies for yourself Normal guy since you are obviously full of negativity….you will need it when you are alone and miserable.

  10. Oh, I do so LOVE a bookshelf organization project. This is lovely (and that shelf if amazing)! But, I could never purge my Keller books, no matter how huge they are.

  11. The bookshelf is always the first thing I unpack and organise – it drives my other half demented! My preference is author then year of publication but I can see your logic!

  12. Amazing! My cookbookcase is organized almost EXACTLY as yours. We even have our Barefoot Contessas in the same order. Great minds–good luck in your new home, it looks nice.

  13. Liked your blog. I am a foodie and a creative cook. Love cook books to get ideas to create from. I especially like the ones with great photography of the food.

  14. I love this post! My husband often teases me (or rants) at how many cookbooks I have, and I only have a shelf and a half!

  15. Kate @ Savour Fare

    Do you like that Paletas book? I’ve been eyeing it.

    I clearly need a bigger bookshelf for my cookbooks.

    1. OMG I just made the lime pie paletas from that book and they are DELICIOUS. Everyone needs to make them, right now.

  16. Wait – there are people who can leave a bookshelf empty? Who don’t have books double and triple-stacked because their collection always eclipses shelf space, despite frequent upgrades in number of shelves? It’s a world gone mad.

  17. GORGEOUS! LOL at the Anita Bryant cookbook.

    So, what was Craig’s comment to seeing the finished masterpiece?

    1. Adam Amateur Gourmet

      He liked it but didn’t like the stacks of books in front of the others. I told him he was wrong (though he may be right).

  18. Adam, what a gorgeous shelf–made more beautiful by being put to such great use. Have I gone blind–I can’t find Secrets of the Best Chefs on any of the shelves??!!!! I would love a kitchen with space for a cookbook shelf–I currently house my recipes-only books back to back in one cube of an Ikea Expedit plus 2 hanging Ikea shelves that were only rated to hold about 18 lbs’ worth of books each–and none of these are in my one-butt NYC kitchen!

    BTW, do you plan to write a sequel in the next few years?

    1. Adam Amateur Gourmet

      Hey Vickie, thanks for looking for SECRETS on my shelf. It’s on the top right, hidden behind the stack. My attempt at modesty. No plans for a sequel right now, but you never know!

      1. You totally need to do a sequel–my go-to bookstores here in NYC never seem to have it in stock. Plus every few years there are more great and greater chefs who have their own stuff to share.

        So, having cooked all the recipes in the book multiple times in the process of writing it, it’s not a go-to for you to qualify for MVP status?

  19. Hahaha. You have an Anita Bryant cookbook? It must have been a hilarious gift from someone. I have to put the tomes in the living room which has shelves. Cookbooks are in practically every room so I get it.

  20. This is lovely! I love how you arranged some tasteful objects for display in front of the books.

    Looking forward to seeing the rest of the kitchen! (and if you want to help me pack and move mine, you are definitely invited…)

  21. I love this post! I’ve been keeping most of my cookbooks on my bookshelf which is downstairs and it has become a big hassle. You’ve inspired me to finally go find a bookshelf for my cookbooks in my living room. My husband was not so impressed, as he has been telling me to do this for ages and I never listened to him. So there you go Adam, I’m listening to you instead! ;)

  22. That is a gorgeous bookshelf! I’m lucky enough to have 2 kitchen cabinets that I can stuff full of cookbooks, that was the #1 seller when we bought the house

  23. I’m a librarian as well as a cookbook aficianado and I just wanted to say I love your organizing system, and might have to adopt something similar for myself.

  24. Love this! I have so many cookbooks. We’re moving next week and I already am angling for a bookshelf/built-ins in the new kitchen.

  25. I just want you to know… your bookshelf full of cookbooks makes me very happy! I love the way it’s organized.

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