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Holiday Gift Guide: To the Cook’s Heart

Sure, you can get fancy with kitchen gifts, but a true foodie will swoon over a simple, well-thought-out gift

by Laura Leon on November 29, 2012


Food porn. Sounds kind of dirty, right? But if you’re somebody who loves to cook, to serve food to others and, yes, to eat—because you can’t be addicted to food porn if you don’t do all three—it’s an essential pleasure of life. I am friends with an esteemed doctor who regularly shares with me his albums of food porn, pics taken during cooking classes across the country, as well as dishes he concocts at home. I am always left salivating, no matter if I just ate a hearty breakfast.

To those of you who have friends on your holiday gift buying list who are, like the Good Doc and myself, food porn(ographers?)—let’s just say addicts—please know that it is amazingly easy to wow their socks (er, chef’s aprons) off while not breaking your bank. This holds true even (especially) if you yourself don’t know a butter knife from a serrated one.

As with any gift giving, it’s a good idea to know who you’re buying for. If your friend is a foodie, chances are you’ve eaten at his/her table, or been on the receiving end of edible goodies. Does your friend usually bake, or does she go the canning/preserves route? Once you’ve narrowed down a preferred technique, you can easily seek advice from any kitchen shop or restaurant chef as to what might be an essential, but perhaps neglected, tool or ingredient to aid your friend’s habit.

I’m always amazed that for all the cooking and entertaining I’ve done over the years, so few people who are inclined to gift me give me anything that I could really use in the kitchen, and here I’m not talking about some expensive bit of machinery, but the basics: measuring spoons and cups, which, during holiday baking, are almost always in the dishwasher just when you need them for the next batch. Aprons. Good quality dish towels. A set of six decent soup spoons. Potholders. Serving utensils. Cake slicers. Think back to when you’ve been a guest at a friend’s party—what was he lacking, in terms of getting the goods properly on the buffet and looking good? You’d be amazed at how appreciative a friend might be to receive something as simple as a rasp for zesting citrus, which can be found for next to nothing at hardware stores.

Ingredients for the pantry are always a good choice. There are oodles of olive oils out there—try something fruity or from an unexpected country. Same thing for vinegars. If you’re not sure that the recipient will know what to do with, say, malt vinegar, look up a few recipes and type them out on nice card stock, to include with the gift. Flavored salts have been the rage for a few years, but are still worth an “aha!” Then there are the slightly pricier items that chefs sometimes stint on, especially in these times: saffron, truffles, caviar. If you have begun dabbling in cooking, prepare some jars of homemade sauce or cranberry relish to present the overworked cook, who although she won’t admit it, would deep down appreciate the assist.

Sometimes friends go the extra distance; for instance, you might dig a little deep and send a dear friend and comrade freshly caught fish or game. If you go this route, be sure to ascertain your friend’s schedule, as it does nobody good if that fresh venison arriving while they’re away for two weeks.

Cooking classes are a fun choice, especially if you know that a friend has always felt lacking in a certain department, say pastry making or cutting fish. If you’re on good footing with a local chef who happens to have a certain famous dish or technique, see if you can get him/her to agree to a teaching session with your friend.

You can always go crazy with the big-ticket smokers and roasters and soup tureens, but more often than not, your foodie friends will swoon when you present them with simple but well chosen gifts that honor their spirit, creativity and personal taste, and show how much they mean to you.