Legendary Napa chef loses cookbook collection in fire

In our weekly roundup of food news we have covered the effects that fires in California and Oregon have had on restaurants and wine-producing regions in those states, and today we learned of another loss in the culinary community. Napa chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard’s Grill and other influential California restaurants lost her entire 3,800-volume cookbook library in the devastating Glass Fire (there may be a paywall for this article).

Pawlcyn’s sprawling collection included signed first-edition cookbooks from Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Julia Child and James Beard. These are all gone, as well as many vintage cookbooks, the chef’s personal notes made while developing Mustards Grill back in the early 1980s, and her grandmother’s hand-written cookbook containing cherished family recipes. These are the kinds of losses cookbook lovers fear the most. It’s one thing to reestablish a collection of books still in print, but there are so many volumes that just cannot be replaced.

The cookbooks weren’t the only things the fire took from Pawlcyn. It consumed her entire home, taking all of her personal belongings including her cherished chef’s knives. Tragically, Pawlcyn and her husband had packed to-go bags a few weeks earlier, but had decided to unpack them just days before the fire turned for the worse and came crashing through the forest to her bucolic homestead.

Despite this crushing loss, Pawlcyn retains an optimistic spirit. “I’ve learned a lot from my cookbooks. I loved reading them. I loved holding them,’’ she says. “I don’t think I’ll ever have the collection I had. But there are a million cookbooks out there. There are many more that need to be read. So I better get on it.”

Post a comment


  • rivergait  on  October 14, 2020

    I live 10 miles from an edge of the August Complex, a wildfire in Far Northern California started by lightning August 7, and which still burns with only about 50% containment. The million-plus acre fire put me on the “next-to-go” evacuation zone, but I was never ordered to leave. Sitting on the back deck, drinking wine while watching giant trees torch on the ridges, I spent many an hour planning retreat. Ten horses first, 4 dogs, many many cats, etc. But my cookbooks!! When my family called from all over California to offer assistance, did I want them to pack photos, special keepsakes, more cars than drivers? Nope. First, let’s pack the cookbook library of 1000+ books, then quickly sweep through the pots and pans and knives. All animals were prepped ready to go, and I had my hairbrush, credit card, and phone. Still here though. I love Cyndy Pawlcyn’s books…in fact, Mustard Grill is on the snack bar right now for a coleslaw recipe. I wonder if fire victims could use some of my duplicate books.

  • matag  on  October 16, 2020


  • bgbmus  on  October 16, 2020

    I know so many lost so much in these fires. It is heartbreaking to her this personal story of a loss, and though it is only material things, we can all feel sad for a lifetime´s accumulation of such a cultural treasure lost. The last few sentences give us a window into her grief, her acceptance, and her decision to keep going. She is truly inspirational, and I´m so grateful to have read this article.

  • shrnngnt  on  October 17, 2020

    Ugh. So sorry to hear this. Our house burned 3 years ago in the Tubbs Fire, and losing our cookbook collection was really difficult.

  • debiannj  on  October 18, 2020

    So sorry to hear this.

    I advocate digitizing personal cookbooks for people in areas which have a lot of disasters like this. It’s not the same as the cookbook itself, but at least you still have your beloved recipes. They can be stored off site. Watch copyright though.

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!