10 Tasteful Gifts For The Aspiring Chef

While there are some of us for whom even boiling water correctly is a challenge, there are also future Top Chefs just waiting to be given the chance. You probably have one among your family or friends. And while great cooks don’t necessarily need great tools (it’s-a all in the spirit, eh?), it can’t hurt to have a few high-quality items around the kitchen. A beautiful new knife and cutting board may be the excuse he or she needs to stay home and brew up something delicious instead of going out.

And remember, a high-quality knife or pot can last a lifetime! So don’t be afraid to lay out a little scratch. Consider some of the following items to set your foodie on the right path.

TB Groupe Evercut Knife

I wrote this up the other day, and just had to include it in this round-up. The unique titanium carbide-steel combo is supposed to last up to 25 years without even needing a tune-up. And it’s less likely to chip than ceramic. The only trouble is it costs a mint: $225. But If it’s the last knife you ever buy, technically you could be saving a lot of money.

L’Econome Paring Knife Set

This one comes with a caveat. These wood-handled paring knives are solid and endearing (the lacquer wears off, leaving a nice patina on the handle), but what you really want is the three-knife set with sheep’s-foot and bird’s-beak as well as traditional paring — and the set is no longer available! You may still be able to find it in-store at Sur La Table, or on eBay, but if not, the original knives are available online for only $8 each.

Boos Cherry Cutting Board

There’s a lot of noise about bamboo cutting boards these days, but I think a hulking, end-cut cherry board like this is way more dignified, and will probably last longer, especially if you don’t mind doing a little sanding and work on it. I love the finish on this one from Williams-Sonoma, but $120 might be too much. This Sagaform has a little less old-world charm, but it’s bigger and only $75.

Ozeri Touch II Kitchen Scale

While you can always guess the size of a steak or pile of chopped veggies, if you’re going to be doing anything really interesting with them (like slow-cooking), it’s important to know the weight. And who wants to do it on the bathroom scale, the way you weigh your dog? No, an understated accessory like this Ozeri scale will help turn good cooking into precise cooking. At under $30, it’s not too much of a hit on the wallet, either.

Update: looks like all the ones below that price have been bought up! Don’t worry, there are plenty of good ones from reliable manufacturers if you search for “digital kitchen scale.”

Meat thermometer (newfangled or “original”)

If your little chef is planning on doing much in the way of meat, a thermometer is absolutely essential. I personally prefer the old-school metallic poker with the radial dial, but that’s just because I’m weird like that. Still, it’s a classic, and you can probably find one on sale for five bucks. The newer ones, however, have handy stuff like temperature alarms, timers built in, and all kinds of stuff that make them indispensable after a few months of relying on them. This Polder model is on the plain side, but the reviews tend to praise its longevity.

Silpat Baking Mat

The waxy feel of these things always creeps me out when I handle them, but pastry chefs around the world swear by them. It’s a nice alternative to the classic baking sheet, and its cool industrial-looking finish will make your cook feel like they’re a real pro. They range from $15-$30, and I’d say go ahead and get the big one. No sense doing two batches of cookies when one will do.

Steel Dough Scraper

Although this simple device is made for lifting the remnants of dough from your cutting board or counter, it’s really just a great all-purpose kitchen tool. Use it to split scones, scrape melted cheese off dishes, or for a hundred other tasks. Don’t go with a wood or plastic handle! You want a single piece of steel. I’ve been using this one from Progressive for years, but Williams-Sonoma has a gorgeous undecorated one (shown above) that’s sturdier and costs almost the same. At under $10, these are great stocking stuffers for pretty much anybody.

Something made of cast iron from Le Creuset

The thing about cast iron stuff is that you really have to know how to use it, it can be a pain to clean up, you need a gas stove, and you’re likely to burn yourself because they get hot all over. But everyone has them because… well, they’re just so solid. I’m afraid my Ikea non-stick pan would break if I handled it roughly, but I’d feel safe playing a double-header with my Le Creuset skillet. If I had to pick one item from their selection for someone just starting out, I’d go with a square skillet grill and panini press. That’ll do any meat you throw at it, and sandwiches to boot. Don’t feel like dropping $200 on the Le Creuset name? This Lodge version looks like a bargain.

High-quality Olive Oil

A new chef might be wary about spending a lot of money on certain ingredients, just because, well, who wants to spend $30-$50 on olive oil? But if you take that step for them, they’ll indulge themselves and make something deserving of the ingredient, and might just invite you over for dinner, too. These oils are from the St. Helena Olive Oil Company, though there are plenty to choose from elsewhere. Just go to a fancy grocery store and buy something that looks delicious if you can’t justify spending the money on something fresh or local. Get ’em out of the cheap oil rut.

Cooking shows on DVD or iTunes

Shows like Good Eats and The F Word have been gaining popularity in recent years, and although there is a whole network dedicated to food (I forget what it’s called), it’s nice to have these things on demand. A nice gift for a tentative cook would be an episode with a particularly difficult but delicious dish that you could watch and then make together. The gift of teamwork! Buy ’em here, at Amazon, or look in the miscellaneous section of your local kitchen store.

Well, that’s what we’ve got. I’d welcome any one of these as a gift, and even established chefs are probably missing one or could use a replacement. As a last caution, try to resist the urge to buy overly-specific kitchen gadgets like cherry pitters and such. They’re almost always underused, hard to clean, and end up languishing in cabinets while high-quality basics like a good knife or pepper grinder are in daily use. Cookbooks are another good idea, but there are so many to choose from, and only you know which would be a good one to give.

Got a favorite kitchen gadget or gift idea we didn’t think of here? Sound off below! We love to hear from you guys.

Check out the rest of our 2010 holiday gift guide!