Finding the perfect holiday gift can be maddening — is this the color they’d want? Is it something they already have? Is it so last year? — but really, once you have a sense of a person’s taste, it’s not impossible. This season, we’ll be talking to members of various tribes to find out exactly what to get that golf dad, teacher, or expecting mom in your life. Think of it as a window into their brain trust — or at least a very helpful starting point.
Even if you think of yourself as handy in the kitchen, it can be hard to find a gift for a chef or serious home cook. You don’t want to give them something they already have — no one needs two Vitamix blenders in their home kitchen — but you also want to find them something that they’ll actually use, which is easier said than done. After all, chefs often have exacting standards, with refined preferences for salt, knives, and even vegetable peelers and storage containers. So to point you in the right direction, we surveyed over 20 chefs, including James Beard Award-winners and Michelin star holders, about the kitchen items that are on their holiday wish lists this year. Don’t miss all of the Strategist’s holiday gift coverage right here, too.
“I really want a copper tamagoyaki pan,” says Craig Koketsu, executive chef of Quality Branded, the restaurant group behind Quality Meats and Quality Italian. “I’m really into making omelettes right now, and this pan allows you to roll a perfect omelette that’s evenly filled from end to end.”
Chad Shaner, executive chef at the Wild Son, is hoping for a nice juicer this year. “I’m usually on the run in the morning,” he explains, “and if I don’t start my day healthy, it snowballs throughout the day. I’m not drinking this month, so I’ve replaced my shift drink with a kale, green apple, ginger, orange, and matcha juice.”
“These scissors are small and sharp enough to do fine tasks like cutting herbs, but they are also strong enough to go through fish bones, lobster shells, and chicken backs,” says Mike Reilly, chef de cuisine at NoMad New York. And though scissors don’t seem like the most exciting gift, for a serious home cook, they’ll definitely come in handy, since Reilly insists, “I use these scissors as much as any other tool in the kitchen.”
“Everyone at MeMe’s uses this Microplane spice grinder,” says co-owner Bill Clark. “Behind the bar it’s how nutmeg goes on our classic punch, I use it for baking, and Libby uses it the kitchen. Honestly we are not gadget people, [but] this is worth making space for (though it’s not big!).”
According to Marco Canora, the chef at Hearth and Zadie’s Oyster Room, as well as the creator of Brodo, every kitchen needs a mortar and pestle: “The mortar and pestle is one of the oldest kitchen tools in existence today — to my mind it speaks to the connection of food and medicine. Our pharmacological approach to medicine was born from these devices. Pulverizing herbs or spices right before use them enhances [their] flavor and nutrient value dramatically,” he adds.
“I found out about this simple, small tool from Alice Medrich’s cookbook Flavor Flours,” admits Camille Cogswell, pastry chef at Zahav in Philadelphia. It’s a nut grater, which “clamps to the side of a table. You put your nuts or seeds through the hopper on top, and then you use the hand-crank to process them through a rotary grater, and out comes your own freshly-milled nut flour,” making it a great gift for the gluten-intolerant baker or Middle Eastern-inspired chef in your life. And though she’s got her eye on a vintage rotary nut grater, there’s also a modern version available.
Mario Carbone, managing partner at Major Food Group, which owns and operates Carbone, The Grill, and Dirty French, among several other restaurants, wants some new glassware. “Ralph Lauren came out with these gorgeous art deco, old-world bar wares. They are a must-have for your next Gatsby party,” he says. “At The Grill, we use similar crystal decanters to keep our premixed martinis in the freezer and serve them into a frozen glass at the perfect temperature,” which is also a good holiday entertaining trick.
Edward Lee, culinary director at Succotash in Washington, D.C., would also like some nice glassware, specifically these old-fashioned crystal glasses from Baccarat, “because after a long day in the kitchen, my favorite thing is hanging out in comfy slippers and having a bourbon.”
Richard Ho, chef-owner of Ho Foods in Manhattan’s East Village, wants some sharpening stones for his knives: “Either the Sigma Power Select II sharpening stones, or the Debado Splash and Go sharpening stones. No matter how long or short the work day is, there’s always something calming about sharpening knives at the end of a night. By no means am I a stone expert, but these are the ones at the top of my list right now.”
Mike Lata, chef and owner of FIG and The Ordinary in Charleston, South Carolina, wants a paella burner. “It’s a very compact unit that’s lightweight, portable, and super easy to clean,” he says, assuring us that it’s a more practical gift than you might think. “If you want to have an impromptu dinner party and you only have rice, vegetables, and some meat, you can easily impress a crowd.”
“I’d love a new small wine refrigerator. I just got back from Napa and need somewhere to put all the wines I just bought,” says Matt Hyland, chef and co-owner of EMILY and Emmy Squared. “I’ve got my eye on the Wine Enthusiast 48 Bottle Wine Refrigerator,” which is on the expensive side, but it’s a brand of wine refrigerator that’s favored by many sommeliers and beverage directors.
“We have a huge cookbook collection that we’re pretty proud of, and cookbooks are usually all that we ask for during the holidays,” explain Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito, the husband-and-wife chefs and owners of Don Angie. They add, “We skipped a wedding registry when we got married and asked for cookbooks, too.” Two books top their list this year: “A Very Serious Cookbook, by Fabian von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone, a chef duo that has always inspired us with their unique, artful dishes, and Estela, by Ignacio Mattos, as Estela has been our favorite restaurant in the city for a very long time.”
Riad Nasr, co-chef and co-owner of Frenchette, also has a bunch of cookbooks on his wish list this year. “There is essential reading coming out of Canada,” he says. “First and foremost, the late great John Bil’s Ship to Shore,” which pulls back the curtain on the commercial fishing industry to help both home cooks and professional chefs make better seafood decisions. Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse, from the Montreal restaurant of the same name, is “really a celebration of life and community,” says Nasr, calling it “inspired work from the most talented collective I know. And Matty Matheson’s cookbook is as infectious and fun as he is.”
Henry Lu, executive chef at Loosie’s Kitchen in Williamsburg, keeps a notebook with him at all times: “Whether I am walking through the market or working on recipes in the kitchen, if I get an idea I need somewhere to jot it down.” And this chef’s notebook is pretty hardcore, since it’s both waterproof and greaseproof. “I’ve ruined so many notebooks while working in the kitchen,” says Lu, “and this one really holds up. I don’t have to worry about that one sauce getting onto my pages and ruining everything.”
Kevin Adey, chef-owner of Bushwick’s Faro and General Deb’s, has his eye on the A5 notebook cover from Galen Leather, which fits over his Leuchtturm notebook: “They are a combination of worn leather and just the right amount of pockets so your journal doesn’t get too bulky but you still have room for essentials.” (The brand also makes leather notebook covers for Moleskine notebooks and the Strategist-approved Hobonichi Techo.)
Preeti Mistry, author of the Juhu Beach Club Cookbook, has a slightly more tech-y item on her wish list. “I have some ideas I want to play around with on a home sous vide machine,” she says. “I’m not big on modernist cuisine, but I do think a sous vide machine’s interesting when it serves a purpose.”
“I care deeply about building community, and to me that begins around a table,” says Camilla Marcus, owner of all-day café west~bourne. She adds that in both the restaurant and her own home, “communal dining and gathering is central to taking care of others and providing a space that feels like home. There’s no better way to connect as humans than sharing a family-style meal, which epitomizes the spirit of the holidays.” That’s why she’s asking for this marbled concrete lazy Susan from Canadian designer Concrete Cat. “I love this piece as a clever retro throwback with a naturally-inspired, high-design edge, serving as a unique centerpiece and hopefully a conversation starter to bring people together.”
Nobu 57 executive chef Matt Hoyle has a slightly more practical — and edible — wish list: “I live in New York City, so no room for more pans, knives, or KitchenAids. I want something to eat. Cheese, for example. A nice selection from Murray’s would do the trick. Half a Stilton, big wedge of Parm, Montgomery’s Cheddar, a triple creme and a Raclette to melt, a bit of something soft and goat-y.” Or, if you don’t want to choose, Murray’s also offers some pre-selected gift sets, like this one that’s got funky Roquefort, nutty Comte Saint Antoine, and a goat bucheron.
Michele Goldsmith, executive pastry chef at both Nobu 57 and Nobu Downtown, agrees with Hoyle that edible gifts are best, but she’d like some tea. “Tribute Teas supply the ceremonial-grade matcha which we use in our green tea ice cream, and generally carry the best-quality Japanese teas we’ve found,” she says, noting that the Genmaicha and the matcha are her two favorites.
Or, you can give the gift of fruit all year round. Greg Baxtrom, chef and owner of Olmsted in Brooklyn says, “I love growing citrus at Olmsted, and I currently have a few citrus plants in my apartment. Surprisingly, they’re doing really well, but Meyer lemons are awesome, and I would love to have a small tree in my place.” And lucky for us all, Amazon now ships live plants — including Meyer lemon trees.
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