Semenak: Great holiday gifts for cooks
Published Monday, November 26, 2012 1:50PM EST
MONTREAL--Cooks are the easiest people to buy gifts for. And the hardest.
Kitchen stores and housewares departments are full of toys and gadgetry for people who like to cook. The trouble is, most chefs and serious home cooks are pretty finicky about the tools they use day in and day out.
The best sure-fire gifts to buy for the gourmets and gastronomes on your list are simple ones: well-made basics or extravagant splurges they might not make themselves.
Avoid the gadgets and gimmicks, most cooks don’t have enough room for all that stuff in their kitchen drawers. Instead head to specialized kitchen shops with good-quality tools and accessories and knowledgeable staff who are cooks themselves. Explore restaurant supply stores, too, for professional-quality supplies and cookbook stores, packed with culinary inspiration from around the world.
Here are a few gift ideas any cook would drool over:
1. A serious Japanese knife
There’s nothing worse than a dull, flimsy knife in the kitchen. Chefs rarely keep a whole set, opting instead for just a couple of high-quality ones they keep meticulously sharpened.
Japanese knives in carbon steel are the most coveted for their hard, high-quality steel that keeps its edge, and their beautiful craftsmanship.
L’Emouleur, the knife shop on Laurier Ave W. (where Normand Laprise and Martin Picard buy their knives) sells Japanese knives ranging in price from $250 to $4,000. The most versatile are mid-sized santokus or longer kiritsuke chef knives
2. Another cookbook – for cooking or just dreaming
Cooks never have enough cookbooks. Anyway, you don’t even need to like cooking to appreciate the exquisite design and sumptuous photographs. Some are instructional (the ones you keep stoveside in the kitchen and refer to over and over again) and others escapist (for curling up with in bed or on the sofa, just for the pleasure of it.)
Among my favourites of the 2012 crop of cookbooks are:
- Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Random House). Infused with Middle Eastern flavours, this might be the most-heralded cookbook of the year, from the duo who own London’s Ottolenghi restaurants. This is a cookbook with a real sense of place, a love letter to their hometown and its foodscape.
- The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman (Random House). This is a collection of recipes, photos and kitchen wisdom from the popular, award-winning food blogger who cooks up simple, delicious dishes in her tiny Manhattan kitchen. She writes with warmth and humour and takes the most gorgeous photographs.
- Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Andrews McMeel.) A lush book by an American woman who went to Japan and fell in love, married and had three sons. It’s an endearing portrait of her life on an organic farm in rural Japan, full of simple authentic recipes and poignant stories.
3. Extravagant edibles
Most serious cooks already have what they need when it comes to kitchen equipment. But they are always running out of ingredients. An assortment of fine-quality pantry essentials is always appreciated.
Think about pairing estate-bottled extra-virgin olive oil or hazelnut oil with barrel-aged wine vinegar or really old balsamic; a trio of finishing salts with tiny spoons and a wooden salt cellar; imported artisanal pasta and jars of cured olives, marinated peppers or artichokes. For bakers: Dutch-processed cocoa powder, premium dark chocolate, vanilla beans.
4. The cheese plate
The cheese plate is a perennial favourite –whether at the beginning or the end of the meal. A rustic slate cheese board makes for beautiful presentation, especially when it comes with chalk for identifying the cheeses on the plate. Include a set of cheese spreaders or knives and perhaps an artisanal Quebec cheese or two.
5. An Italian primo
Not a cooked dish, but the makings for one. Put together a risotto kit, which includes fine-quality raw Italian Arborio rice, saffron, a bottle of white wine and perhaps a jar of sun-dried tomatoes and a sachet of dried porcini mushrooms. Tuck in a hand-written recipe for the classic risotto alla milanese along with a flat-edged wooden spoon for stirring.
6. Serving ware
Casseroles and baking dishes get nicked and chipped as they go from oven to table. And the old Pyrex and Corning Ware get a little dated.
An all-white oven-to-table serving dish or casserole is a most versatile piece in the kitchen, whatever the cook’s style or colour scheme. It’s an especially nice gift that does double-duty as container and present at potluck events.
I like the simple, contemporary pieces in the Sophie Conran for Portmeirion collection from England.