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Holiday Shopping Ideas from Chef Gusteau

November 27, 2009

by Chef Gusteau

Hello friends!  I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked for gift ideas for home cooks or even other chefs.  As you all know, there are many stores catering to this audience, with so many items at varying costs.  It really is fun to see how the culinary industry has become more approachable to us all.  That said, I have found that some of the best places for kitchen items include Crate and Barrel, Viking Store, William Sonoma and Sur La Table.  Here are some great gift ideas for you to consider for that special culinary friend.  And don’t forget a little something for your buddy Chef Gusteau!

Knives: Truly the best investment for any home cook or chef.  Now I don’t recommend buying an entire knife block set; totally unnecessary.  Every cook needs a chef knife, paring knife, filet knife, and a slicing/serrated knife.  The key item here is the chef knife.  The most popular sizes come in 8 inch and 10 inch lengths.  I find the 10 inch is a nice size to work with, and eliminates the immediate need to upgrade to a 12 inch chef knife.  Quality brands include Wusthof, Global, and Shun.  Expect that a quality chef knife may run over $100 for a serious cook.  Most importantly, the cook needs to feel the weight and balance of each knife in their own hand to determine the best fit.

Knife Sharpeners:  Makes sense that this would follow as a great gift idea.  For starters, I am not recommending electric sharpening systems.  Do they work?  Yes, really well…but so much so that literally centimeters of your blade are torn away forever before your eyes.  Multiple stones and pads also work really well, but require oil maintenance and a steady hand to maintain the proper angle during sharpening.  I recommend a nice alternative with diamond steel sharpening rods.  I am not referring to the honing rods that you see in knife block sets or sold separately for under $15.  These hone knife edges that have microscopic nicks and tears in them.  Useful, but will not sharpen a dull blade.  What you need is a diamond stone.  Global sells a great diamond sharpening rod that looks similar to the honing rods, but will sharpen your knives really well without taking off as much steel as electronic sharpeners.  Typically diamond steels will cost around $80.

Cutting Boards:  Nice trend, huh?  Cutting boards have come a long way.  Now, you can find great boards made of wood composites and bamboo that resist bacteria growth (like glass cutting boards, which you should NEVER use for cutting unless you hate the knife you are using) while not dulling the blade during use.  The prices for these specialty boards are around $30, but dishwasher safe and last a long time.

Food Porn:  Really, there are classifications of culinary books so beautiful, colorful, and enticing that they are respectfully designated as food porn.  Don’t believe me; watch the eyes of your culinary friend as they turn the pages of books from such Chefs as Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck, Morimoto and others.  A book/magazine series I recommend highly is Art Culinaire.  These culinary magazine-like hardcover books arrive quarterly and are simply fantastic.

Cooking Classes:  Why not stir the creative pot a bit and purchase cooking classes for your home cook?  It’s a great way to experience professional classes without committing to several years in costly cooking schools.  These classes are offered by almost any kitchen store noted above, as well as from many private chefs and restaurants.  Expect to pay between $65-100/hr for good classes.

Monsieur Anton says:  Ah boys and their toys.  Some good ideas, and you’ve got me thinking about a gift or two that might make someone happy.  You had me a little concerned with the “food porn” category.  Visions of Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger in 9 1/2 Weeks went through my head until I realised that this is not that kind of blog.  Might I suggest Michael Symon’s new tome “Live to Cook,” now selling at Amazon.com for $23.00?

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2009 12:06 pm

    thanks for this article. it is very usefull..

  2. November 28, 2009 10:56 pm

    My pleasure…don’t spend too much! Have a great Holiday Season. Chef Gusteau.

  3. Dave permalink
    November 29, 2009 5:57 am

    Hi Chef – I love the blog. Thanks for the holiday shopping ideas. I am in the market for a new cutting board so I am glad to see you mention them. Do you have any specific recommendations?

    I looked at boards at Sur la Table tonight and my complaint about the bamboo and other composite boards is that they were too small. I do like that they are low maintenance and dishwasher safe.

    I also looked at John Boos maple boards like this one: http://www.surlatable.com/product/john+boos+%26+co.+cutting+board+with+grips.do?

    Any idea what kind of upkeep these real hard wood boards have?

    Thanks for any advice you may have on the subject.

    • November 29, 2009 3:11 pm

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks for the note.

      I have a gorgeous Boos round block, which weighs about 40 pounds. Big problem, during our move to a new house, I had it packed away for a bit…damn thing dried out and started cracking between seams. These boards require constant maintenance and attention, and I slacked off. You basically have to keep them really clean, and well oiled. Ever try washing one of these boards in the sink…pure hell. Mine didn’t even fit in the sink.

      I do recommend the composite boards – hygenic and practical. The sizes sold at retail are smaller as the larger ones cost more and the stores are probably concerned that they’d be sitting on inventory – so they sell the easiest, though least practical, boards. I have the Chef Series from the Epicurean line of boards. You can pick up these boards at Sur la Table, Viking Store, or on their website:
      http://www.epicureancs.com/store/

      Take a look online and find the right board for you. I highly recommend them, and have had mine for almost 2 years…no issues; you can imagine I put mine to the test!

      Have fun Dave, and Happy Holidays.
      Thanks for reading…now if I could get someone to buy you the Ken Onion Series Shun knives…
      Chef Gusteau

  4. November 30, 2009 3:02 am

    I happily use my steel all the time to re-hone the edge on my knives. I had no idea about the diamond stone sharpening rods from Global until I read this post. Should I simply replace the steel that I have now for a sharpening rod, or would you recommend that I keep both in my arsenal, using the steel on a daily basis to keep my knives honed and the sharpening rod for the occasional re-edging?

    Thanks!

  5. November 30, 2009 6:12 pm

    Hi Tom,
    You nailed it! Keep both in your arsenal as they perform very different tasks. You should only have to use your diamond steel once in a while, particularly when the honing steel just can’t save it. The honing steel you typically use each time before you use your knives. Great job and thanks for tuning in!
    Happy Holidays!
    Chef Gusteau

  6. December 18, 2009 2:47 pm

    Good list, but have to disagree on the electric knife sharpeners bit, good electric sharpeners do a great job. Have been using them fo many years now in our professional kitchen.

    Amanda

    • December 20, 2009 10:35 pm

      Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for the note! I agree that electric knife sharpeners do work, and work well for a majority of kitchen knives. I admit being very cautious about putting my $400 Shun knife through one, though. I am impressed that your professional kitchen outfitted you with an electric sharpener…I have only seen manual 3 stone systems in the kitchens I’ve worked in. The only experience I have with an electric was with one chef who whittled his knife down to a toothpick with his brand. Not sure which model he had, though.
      Thanks for reading…and have a great holiday season! – Chef Gusteau.

  7. January 21, 2010 12:40 am

    Thanks for the great info , My Shun set is only 3 piece and thats plenty, Theres also some good reviews on knife sets here Stainless Steel Knife Set

  8. February 9, 2010 9:13 am

    I love my Henckels. I find the handle weighting and range of blade options is just perfect for the way I cook. I am hard on knives, I don’t take care of them as well as I should, but mine have held up for 20 years and will probably last a lifetime.

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