As happens every holiday season, I will inevitably wind up spending an enormous amount of time this year in toy stores. But I won’t be buying Rock ’em-Sock ’em Robots, or belly button rings for Barbie. I’ll spend most of my shopping dollars this holiday season in specialty toy stores aimed at cooks—places like Sur La Table, Spoons ‘n’ Spice, and Williams Sonoma. These places are packed to the brim with gifts for your favorite chef, whether a Culinary Institute of America graduate or someone just learning to boil water.
When my editor asked me to compile a list of gadget gifts for cooks for this special issue of City Weekly, my first inclination was to reach for the frivolous. And we’ll get to that. But first I’d like to mention a few kitchen tools—some of which I’ve received as gifts—that I find absolutely indispensable.
Can a cook ever have enough cutting boards? I doubt it. I’m a big fan of wood for chopping and I especially love a bamboo board I picked up at No Place Like Home in Park City. But no matter how careful you are, wood tends to absorb the flavors of onions, garlic and shallots easily. Besides, for sanitary reasons, I’d eschew cutting poultry, meat or fish on wooden boards. So I recommend giving the gift of an assortment of sanitary plastic cutting boards, in different sizes and colors, to the special cook in your life. You can find good deals on professional quality cutting boards at Bintz restaurant supply store.
And while you’re there, pick up a dozen or so ceramic ramekins. I use ramekins in my kitchen almost daily—not necessarily for cooking but for organizing ingredients like pre-measured sauces and spices and such prior to cooking. I always have a line of ramekins on my counter filled with recipe ingredients like parsley, minced garlic and so on ready to go before I fire up my stove.
One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is an ingenious little rubber thingy that cost me about two bucks a few years ago at Spoons ‘n’ Spice. It’s a cylindrical tube about 6-inches long used for peeling the skins from garlic cloves. You just roll the garlic in the rubber tube and the skins magically separate from the garlic, leaving the cloves intact. It’s a nifty way to quickly peel large quantities of garlic. And speaking of peeling, I can’t imagine functioning in my kitchen with my OXO Good Grips brand potato peeler. I love the feel of the handles of OXO Good Grips products, which are as aptly named as any I can think of.
I rely on an assortment of cookware in my kitchen, including a variety of Calphalon, Le Creuset and All-Clad pots and pans that I like a lot. But if I had to choose the one that I find most versatile, it would be my Chinese wok. There’s not much—except maybe pizza—that you can’t cook in a wok. You can sautÃ©, boil, steam, fry, poach and sear with a good one. I recommend buying a heavy-duty steel (never non-stick) wok at an Asian supplier like Salt Lake’s Oriental Market.
While you’re there, you might want to pick up a supply of sushi molds. It’s a frivolous expense, to be sure, but I find that small plastic molds for nigiri and maki rolls make creating sushi at home a snap. If there’s a sushi lover in your house, you could also pick up a bamboo mat for rolling sushi and an assortment of “nori,” the dried seaweed used for making sushi rolls. And Oriental Market has a great selection of attractive, inexpensive plastic chopsticks to add some flair to your sushi gathering.
Aside from my wok, the piece of cookware that probably gets the most use in my home kitchen is an inexpensive non-stick T-Fal skillet that I picked up at Wal-Mart. I can’t imagine browning something like spaetzle in butter without it. And while we’re on the subject, an exotic and inexpensive gift for the spaetzle aficionado in your house is a rectangular metal gadget that looks sort of like a cheese grater, used for making homemade spaetzle. My spaetzle machine is so old I’ve forgotten the brand name, but I’ll bet you could find one at Siegfried’s German delicatessen and market.
For a big-ticket item, I’d suggest heading to your favorite kitchen supply store or even to Costco for a holiday gift that any cook would love: A KitchenAid professional electric mixer. KitchenAid mixers are must-have tools for bakers and they even come in some new nifty colors like lavender, almond, cobalt, and tangerine, in addition to classic white, red, yellow and black. And if your personal cook already owns a KitchenAid mixer, consider supplying him or her with a gift accessory. I especially love the meat grinder attachment, which allows me to grind my own meat for burgers, chili and such, and is great for making breadcrumbs too.
What gift am I hoping appears under my tree for Christmas this year? Well, I’ve had my eye on a handmade, carbon steel Yanagi sushi knife made by Masamoto Sohonten. It looks like an expensive piece of artwork and is priced like one too: a mere $2,136, but that includes a custom-made ebony knife cover. You listening, Santa?
BINTZ RESTAURANT SUPPLY CO. 1855 S. 300 West 463-1515
NO PLACE LIKE HOME 1890 Bonanza Drive, #112 Park City 435-649-9700
ORIENTAL MARKET 667 S. 700 East 363-2122
SIEGFRIED’S DELICATESSEN 20 W. 200 South 355-3891
SPOONS ‘N’ SPICE 788 E. 9400 South 533-1988; 4700 S. 900 East 263-1898; 788 E. 9400 South, Sandy 553-1988
SUR LA TABLE 10 North Rio Grande St. 456-0280
WILLIAMS SONOMA 312 Trolley Square 322-0245