|Chef Gifts 2008
by Grace Nguyen and Heather Sperling
The modern chef is as busy outside the restaurant as they are inside: cooking at events, running a second business, updating blogs, even popping up behind the bar. So this year, think outside the knife bag for a few gifts that speak to the person inside the chef coat. Our annual guide covers the bases with fun yet practical gifts for the busy cook to use behind and away from the line. And don't worry, we've kept your wallet in mind – gifts range from a few dollars to $60.
pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini has been spending time behind the bar at New York’s Jean-Georges PDT; if you’ve got a cocktail fan on your hands, there are plenty of ways to encourage the habit.
Dale DeGroff says his favorite tool is a muddler ($3-10), and calls the Boston Shaker ($15-45) “the chef’s knife of the bartending trade.” Julie Reiner of Flatiron Lounge in New York says her favorite tool is a long-handled bar spoon ($2-20), and Andy Minchow of Holeman and Finch in Atlanta can’t live without his hand juicer ($6-15).
The iSi cream whipper ($40-60) is one of “The Liquid Chef” Junior Merino’s favorite tools. iSi’s line of whippers are designed to lighten up pretty much anything that’s edible (and drinkable). Chef Katsuya Fukushima of Café Atlantico in Washington DC says they’re essential for carbonating and making foams. And don’t ignore iSi’s cousin—the soda siphon—to add a little bubbly to your repertoire as well (we bet Eben Freeman from Tailor would use it to make his smoked coke at home).
If a bottle of booze sounds more up their alley, consider the spirits appearing in mixologist’s creations all over the country: sloe gin (Plymouth makes a great version), rye whiskey, and cachaça. Beyond the base spirit, St-Germain ($27-33 for 750 ml) is an elderflower liqueur that has stormed the cocktail scene in the last year. The bottle is beautiful, and its sweet, flowery flavor profile is excellent with everything from Champagne to gin. And don’t forget bitters: Fee Brother’s, Angostura, Bittermens (still in test-market mode, but allegedly available by request) are all excellent purveyors of fine bitters, which Toby Maloney of The Violet Hour in Chicago loves to use to add layers of flavor to a drink.
Most every chef likes to play around outside the kitchen and if their extra-curricular culinary ventures include, say, making bbq sauce, infusions, preserved lemons, oven-dried tomatoes or even homemade cider, then a set of specialty bottles ($.60-3.70) – glass bottles, jars, and jugs – could certainly come in handy. And who knows: maybe they’ll return the favor (with something delicious in it).
For the chef who’s doing it, considering it, or likes the idea but doesn’t know a thing about it, a blogging book ($12-30) is a surprisingly functional gift. There are several how-to blog books on the market from blogging 101 to corporate business blogging; all you have to do is determine the type of chef blogger you’re working with.
- Working from Home, by Paul Edwards
- Blog On: The Essential Guide to Building Dynamic Weblogs, by Todd Stauffer
- How to Make Money with Your Blog: The Ultimate Reference Guide for Building, Optimizing, and Monetizing Your Blog, by Duane Forrester, Gavin Powell
- ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income, by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett
In the Kitchen: Practical
They’re not just for sushi; some chefs prefer bamboo chopsticks ($3-10) over tongs or tweezers for plating delicate objects. They’re light, precise, and not wildly expensive, so if they get lost (or dropped in the trash), it’s no big loss. In fact, Chef Shaun Doty of Shaun’s in Atlanta says he goes through a pair of extra-long bamboo chopsticks a week.
We can’t ignore the Microplane ($10-15); it started as a woodworking tool, but chefs love it! Chef Traci Des Jardins of Jardiniere in San Francisco calls it “one of the most useful things to have come along during my career.” In terms of delicacy, it’s a big step up from graters, and it’s a useful tool for garnishing dishes, desserts, and drinks with delicate tendrils of citrus zest, spice gratings, or a fine shaving of cheese.
These iSi bendable bowls ($10-18) are iSi’s newest pieces of versatile equipment. We’ve heard quite a few pastry chefs rave about how easy it is to extract from silicon molds; these silicone-based measuring cups and bowls take mixing and pouring to another level: just squeeze the bowl to create your own spout and pour.
For chefs with a sustainable mission (of which there are more and more), consider a compost container ($20-40). It’s not the sexiest gift, but it’s a direct way for them to reduce the environmental impact of their restaurant. Go the extra mile by researching composting facilities in their neighborhood that will pick up the compost and distribute it to local farms.
In the Kitchen: Fun
The ubiquitous Sanford Sharpie ($12 for 6) offers personalized sets that can be emblazoned with a name or short message (anything from “Perfection” to “Pork Freak”) in various fonts, and even with clip-art (though they don’t have a toque, knife, or sauté pan option).
It’s the answer to feisty lovers of crusty-edged brownies: a brownie pan with them in mind.The Baker’s Edge ($32-35) brownie pan’s maze-like design gives every brownie piece not one, but two, chewy edges. Obviously it’s not the gift for the center-cut brownie chef…but perfect for adding a “Double-Crust Brownie” to your dessert menu.
A Change of Pace
Even chef’s can be unsure of their career, and if you know someone considering a slightly different path in the food world, the new book Food Jobs ($19.95) by Irena Chalmers will reveal thatthere’s more to food than just cooking it. From anthropologist, to flavor maker, to tea tasterto product developer, it’s an original job-book that’s loaded with helpful Internet resources, organizations, and interviews from the country’s best chefs and writers. Just be sure not to get caught looking at it on the job…
Food and Drink Products
Quebec’s icy winters provide the ideal environment for concentrating the sugars in autumn fruits. La Face Cachée de la Pomme makes a range of Apple Ice Wine ($24-27 for 375 ml) whose aromas waft hazelnuts, caramel and vanilla, making for a great pairing with foie gras or dessert. It’s perfect for the holidays and beyond (the dessert wine can handle several years of age).
Manni ($56) is both the Prius and the BMW of olive oils: environmentally sustainable with a status symbol to prove it, but it’s also chock full of abnormally high levels of anti-oxidants. Despite its clientele of gourmands, celebrities, and top-notch restaurants like Jean-Georges and French Laundry, this liquid gold is exclusive: Armando Manni FedEx’s his oils in a temperature- andpressure controlled-environment to maintain their anti-oxidant levels every step of the way.
Chefs to Know
We'll end with a mention of what we consider to be one of the most essential chef gifts out there: Chefs to Know, A Guide to Chefs for Chefs ($24.95). Yes, we publish it; but bias aside, this 900 page tome is a look at the players shaping food, desserts, cocktails and wine across America (and a few abroad as well), and is the only one of its kind. It's chock-full of info about more than 600 chefs and pastry chefs, plus mixologists and sommeliers, recipes, dish photos and even a pull-out guide to chefs' favorite restaurants off the beaten path. It's a great gift for anyone who wants to learn more about the industry – but don't hang it in a stocking. At 3 lbs 5 oz, it'll pull the hook off the wall.