Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear Santa...
Gift Ideas for Chefs, Wannabe Chefs, and Guys Looking to Get Lucky

If you’re not the sort of person who browses the Williams-Sonoma catalogue for fun, or reads recipe books in your spare time, you might not recognize a great present for a foodie. It’s understandable. I can’t tell you how many golf-related gifts I’ve given my golf-obsessed husband, only to discover them still in their original packaging a year later.

So if cooking is a passion or a hobby for someone on your gift list, here are a few ideas. And down in the cookbook section, you’ll find my favorite gift for men of any age – especially the kitchen-impaired, although it’s a great starter book for anyone.

Please note: The Kitchen Goddess has not received as much as a candy cane for these recommendations. She is a wonder of ethical virtue.

Kitchen Gear

■ The only thing I’ve bought for myself recently that was a bit of a splurge was this cheese grater. A cheese grater? True, but this is so much more than a cheese grater. At 18” tall, it also qualifies as kitchen sculpture. Very arty – I leave mine out on the counter in my NJ kitchen. It’s also not cheap – you have to really like someone to spend $98 on a cheese grater. But for the right gear-aholic, it’s a home run. I bought mine in Manhattan at Eataly – an emporium for high quality Italian food and food-related products. Eataly has 25 locations around the world, but only New York and Chicago in the U.S. You can also find the grater online by clicking here.

■ The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is another great place to look for cool kitchen gadgets. The New York Times recently highlighted this mezzaluna chopping knife – a great tool for chopping nuts or herbs, and the handles on this version fold over the blades for safe storage. It’s only $13 for members and $15 for non-members; users will find themselves singing “That’s Amore” in the kitchen as they rock the blade back and forth over the parsley.. Click here to order.

■ And this three-in-one rasp/grater – also from MoMA – is not only slick to look at but space saving. The fine- and broad-ridged steel surfaces grate anything from cheese to chocolate to onion to nutmeg; the large one is the best tool ever for zesting citrus. The plastic surface works well for grating garlic or ginger. At $40 ($36 for members), it’s only a touch more than you’d spend buying the three rasps separately. And then there’s the coolness factor. Click here to order.

■ In the not-from-MoMA category is my favorite new appliance, this immersion blender. It saves an amazing amount of time and effort in puréeing soups or soft foods in the pan, for blending salad dressings, and for making smoothies. The most recommended model is the Cuisinart CSB-75 2-Speed Smart Stick; I like it especially because it comes in 12 fun colors. And it’s a snap to clean. Amazon customer reviewers loved this model, with more than 90% giving it 4 or 5 stars. It’s $35 from most retailers.

■ In the every-chef-should-have-one category is my favorite kitchen wear: the chef’s coat. The white twill double-breasted jacket makes me feel like a chef, which is half the battle, in my opinion. And if, like me, you are usually still working on the food when the guests start arriving, you can throw a clean one on and look great – even as you continue to get the dinner ready – without jeopardizing your good clothes. They’re available online at prices ranging from about $13 to $30, or at most restaurant supply stores.


Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller – Food porn if there ever was, this book has not only gorgeous photography, but recipes that are, by and large, terrific. Some of the recipes are a little precious, as with the parsley water and chive oil you have to make for the asparagus coins; but the tastes that emerge are awesome, and the techniques are well within the range of most home cooks. The focus is on family-style comfort foods, but many of the recipes will produce tastes you just didn’t imagine from ordinary foodstuffs, like the Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables that the book opens with. Moreover, the pages are sprinkled with what the authors call “lightbulb moments” of technique that will be welcome insights for the reader.

CIA Book of Soups or CIA New Book of Soups (which has better photos and is more graphically artistic) are both great sources of soup recipes. Cream soups, purées, chowders, cold soups,... more than 100 recipes, and the instructions are clear and uncomplicated. My own copy, which is the old version, has more bookmarked pages than any other cookbook I own.

And for the single men in your life (I gave the following book to my sons and nephews while they were in college and I know my sons both used it to good advantage)...

Win Her with Dinner, by Alex Hilebronner, Tom Greenwood and Doug Veith – They had me at the cover, which states simply that:

“This book's premise is based upon the simple truth that women like to see a guy put forth a little effort.”

Written by guys for guys, the book gives full dinner menus, with appropriate timing for cooking the whole meal. And a darling pictograph on each page of the kitchen utensils you’ll need.


Food & Wine magazine – I’ve become a big fan in the last few years. Great photography, and most issues have quite a few recipes I think are worth trying. A 2-year subscription is $29.95.

Edible Publications – No, you can’t really eat them. Intelligent, high quality magazines produced in 50 cities or areas around the country, from Edible Orange County to Edible Ohio Valley to Edible Manhattan to Edible Coastal Maine, and stops in between. Each is published by residents of the communities they write about, and all focus on a seasonal celebration of local foods and restaurants. A one-year subscription to Edible Austin is $35 (6 issues); Edible Orange County is $42 (6 issues); Edible Atlanta is $28 (4 issues). So you’ll have to check your area publication. Click here for the page with links to each.

For the Truly Nerdy

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson – How the use of knives and forks, pots and pans, and even fire itself evolved in the technology of cooking. Lively writing and quirky facts – like before we had clocks and timers, the way to time the cooking of a soft-boiled egg was to say six Lord’s Prayers – make for interesting reading, and good dinner conversation. But you have to like the subject matter.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach – Roach is a science writer who tackles – with high humor – all those topics that don’t make good dinner conversation. (I first read her in Stiff: The Secret Life of Cadavers.) Here, she takes on the digestive process, from smell and taste to ... well, you know. Her dry wit and intrepid interviews tackle questions you wouldn’t ask even if you thought of them. And amazingly, she makes it both funny and fascinating.

The Edible Selby, by Todd Selby – A hodgepodge of interviews with cheese makers, salmon smokers, innkeepers, and restaurateurs from around the world, presented with playful watercolor illustrations and wall-to-wall photography (Selby’s principle vocation). You won’t be able to follow most of the recipes, but the book is a wild (for a food book), funky read.

Before You Give Up: A Gift Certificate

And speaking of restaurant supply, I think anyone who really enjoys cooking would also enjoy a gift certificate to the nearest restaurant supply store. Because they fulfill a basic business need, these stores have the best equipment – nothing fancy or whiz-bang about it, but the most durable and practical – at amazingly reasonable prices.

Happy shopping, everyone!


  1. I love seeing all these goodies! This is as much fun as going into an art supply store!
    Now, I am really 'wanty' for some of these items!
    Eileen in Atlanta

    1. Why thank you, Eileen! You can guide me through an art supply store any day.