Most of us have at least one foodie on our holiday list — a beloved spouse, relative or friend who’s some combination of serious cook and passionate eater. If we’re smart, we’ll supply this person with continued inspiration in the form of the perfect kitchen tool or cookbook, so we can continue to enjoy their delicious bounty. But where to start? There are thousands of gadgets out there, some of them so specific to a particular use it’s hard for the average gift-giver to know whether they’re brilliant time-savers or silly space-wasters. So, we turned to some local professional chefs and asked them: if you were buying a gift for a dear friend who loves to cook, what would you choose? Here are their replies:
Thomas Salamunovich, owner and executive chef at Vail’s Larkspur
First, the “Modernist Cuisine at Home” cookbook by Nathan Myhrvold. This series is the biggest deal in the history of cookbooks; it literally revolutionized professional kitchens. “At Home” is the newest edition and makes the whole sous-vide movement — the method of cooking foods in airtight plastic bags, in water baths at accurate, regulated temperatures — accessible to everyone. It’s a tremendously exciting, flawlessly precise technique and allows you to cook to exact doneness without changing the integrity of the interior of the food.
Secondly, a good sous-vide machine — one of my favorites is the VacMaster, which comes in different price ranges. It’s a killer for storing as well as cooking food.
Then an Anova Immersion Circulator — basically a heating source that also moves water. It looks like a stick blender — you hook it to the side of pot, and it keeps the temperature inside consistent, a fundamental requirement of sous-vide cooking. An added plus is that this machine is so good looking.
And finally, back to basics. When it comes to cooking, knife skills are what skating is to hockey and dribbling is to basketball, and sharp knives are essential to the craft. Knives should be sharpened every time you use them, so every serious cook should have a good sharpening stone. The Japanese famously take all things knife related to an extreme artisanal level; their Global stones are my personal favorite.
David Nowakowski, chef at Crazy Wagon
When I’m getting food prepared, I like to stay organized. I use stainless steel nesting bowls every time I cook. They keep everything in its place and keep ingredients separate and at hand. Every kitchen should have them. Another great gift is a nice pepper mill, and a nice small dish for salt. You can get functional, professional ones that look as great on a counter top as they do work well.
Quintin Wicks, sous chef at Beaver Creek’s Splendido
First and foremost, the “Momofuku Cookbook” by David Chang (named for his famous Manhattan restaurant). He’s my favorite chef right now, and the cookbook is very simple and easy to follow for the home cook — simple flavors and recipes. I highly recommend that.
Also, if you can swing it, the Vitamix Vita-Prep blender is every chef’s favorite buddy and the standard in any professional kitchen. It’ll set you back about $500, but it will never break, will last forever and will puree anything you put in there. Then, a set of All-Clad pans, or just a basic All-Clad saucepot or 12-inch saute pan. All-Clad is the standard in high-end cookware. They’re awesome (also very expensive), and any chef or home cook would be happy to have a couple of those pieces in their collection.
Going down to the more affordable: every home cook should have a microplaner, which is a small grater for zesting, grating hard spices on, or even grating cheese. Or, every cook needs good knives. I would recommend a set or just one 10-inch blade Victorinox Forschner knife. They’re very affordable, soft metal, easy to sharpen, won’t break the bank, better than what most people have in their kitchens. It’s the knife I had in culinary school, and I’ve probably had about 20 of them since then. Great for the home cook.
Anne Armstrong, pastry chef at Vail Mountain and chief pastry cook at Larkspur
Something I love to have in the kitchen is a microplane. It’s handy for mincing ginger, garlic or nutmeg, or grating Parmesan (cheese), zesting orange and lemon rind. It makes a great stocking stuffer. For a little step up from that ... something I gave my sister, which I thought was fun, was the 10-quart Le Creuset stock pot — not the cast iron one, the aluminum one, but it’s enameled, from the Le Creuset outlet for about $65. They sell their stock pots for pretty much half-off year-round, and they have fun colors. And, any time I give a gift like that, I usually give my favorite recipe with it; for instance, with vegetable soup or beef stew. If you wanted to go big, the best gift you can give a baker is a Kitchen Aid mixer. I got one as a gift and it’s probably the best gift I’ve ever gotten. If you’re a baker, “Baking with Julia” is a great cookbook. You don’t need to have a ton of skills, she goes through all the recipes and explains them really well. And for advanced bakers, the recipes are flawless.
Madeleine Berenson is a freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur, located at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Visit www.larkspurvail.com.