Bad-ass gift for a chef in training
May 28, 2006 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Aside from the standard knives, what would be a good gift for a student off to culinary school?

My nephew is going to culinary school after he completes his required work time in a professional kitchen. His parents will get him a very good set of knives, so what would be next on the list after that? I'm thinking more tools than pots/pans at this point.
posted by garbo to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Not a tool but one up-and-coming chef I know adores his subscription to Gastronomica.
posted by leecifer at 10:10 AM on May 28, 2006

A good wooden hand-cranked coffee grinder, to be used as pepper mill. It can take a lot of twisting using a table mill to get the kind of volume a chef needs.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:15 AM on May 28, 2006

A good set of spices?
posted by Evstar at 10:36 AM on May 28, 2006

A high quality whisk? Chefs are all about the sauces...
posted by Rumple at 10:47 AM on May 28, 2006

Evstar writes "A good set of spices?"

Bad idea. Spices, especially at the level that a professional chef would use, go off very quickly. The volatile oils etc break down over time--chefs will buy such things on their own (this also lets them develop their taste for Makara cinnamon, for example, vs. I dunno, Sumatran), probably only just in time to use them.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:51 AM on May 28, 2006

My bad.
posted by Evstar at 11:31 AM on May 28, 2006

A good set of books. There's The River Cottage Meat Book for starters.
posted by popcassady at 11:43 AM on May 28, 2006

my brother is a chef and i know he spends a lot of time on his feet. chefs can always use a great pair of comfortable, slip resistant shoes like these. white t-shirts are also nice to wear under the jackets. i would stay away from chef pants until you know what the school requires.
posted by jessica at 11:44 AM on May 28, 2006

PS you might suggest to his parents that, if they haven't already, they shop for the knives with your nephew, as hand-feel is crucial in a knife.
posted by Rumple at 11:50 AM on May 28, 2006

The school may actually require their students to buy their uniforms and knife kit from them, as mine did.

Shoes were not provided, and I absolutely second the suggestion of good kitchen clogs or other shoes that provide support for many hours on one's feet.

Another recommendation is a copy of Harold McGee's book "On Foord And Cooking", as it is THE reference book on food science.
posted by briank at 12:25 PM on May 28, 2006

A bunch of power tools are practical in the kitchen, especially a blow torch for creme brulee. Check out Readymade Issue 19 for "Hardware That Cooks".
posted by glibhamdreck at 12:29 PM on May 28, 2006

Along the lines of spices, get him a decent mortar and pestle.
posted by fvw at 12:34 PM on May 28, 2006

Gift certificate to high-fallutin spice store? I default to Penzeys for high-quality stuff, but I suspect there are higher-end places that cater to chefs.

But really, he'll thank you the most for the shoes.
posted by desuetude at 12:57 PM on May 28, 2006

Kitchen Confidential.
posted by radioamy at 1:47 PM on May 28, 2006

Chefs read crazy cookbooks. Check out today's NYTimes book section.
posted by cribcage at 2:53 PM on May 28, 2006

Infra-red thermometer. Brulée torch: ideally one that uses propane cylinders that can be refilled or replaced at a hardware store.
posted by holgate at 3:49 PM on May 28, 2006

Read Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen for ideas. Or get him the book itself. It's oriented toward home cooks, but it's very useful as it teaches you how to think about this type of gear.
posted by frogan at 3:57 PM on May 28, 2006

As a culinary student myself, please get him some useful books. Anthony Bourdain might be a good read, but his books are hardly going to be read more than once.

Some recommendations:
Culinary Artistry - to understand what a true culinary "artist" is, and an absolutely vital taste-paring guide
Food Lover's Companion - a great encyclopedia recommended by all of my instructors
On Food and Cooking - the leading source of the science of food, very important for someone who really wants to know how food "works"
Larousse Gastronomique - long considered the leading reference on food and cooking, a great book that covers everything

Other than that, subscriptions to food magazines are great to help him stay up to speed with trends. Cooks Illustrated, Saveur, and Gourmet are great ones.

If you want to get him some equipment he'll actually use, try a Microplane zester. These things are wonderful. Be careful with buing equipment though; my school had a knife kit that included a lot of stuff.

On a side note, it's interesting that the school isn't providing your nephew with a knife kit. Like Rumple said though, if his parents are buying the knives, make sure he has some say in picking them out. Beyond that, my school provided (okay, I still paid for them) uniforms and shoes, so find out what he may have "given" to him when he starts. If nothing else, ask him what he needs.
posted by BradNelson at 4:25 PM on May 28, 2006

A KitchenAid stand mixer? I posted one on Craig's List and it was quickly bought by a cooking school student. He wanted it because it was the same model they had at the school, so I guess cooking students need good heavy-duty equipment for home use.
posted by Quietgal at 4:27 PM on May 28, 2006

Second the KitchenAid Mixer. My mother (a former chef) has recently defected to another, more expensive brand, but mine has been getting it done for about 18 years now and I love it.
posted by Manjusri at 4:58 PM on May 28, 2006

In the vein of books, I highly recommend Cookwise: the secrets of cooking revealed. Similar to On Food and Cooking above, it looks about the WHY behind cooking. The idea being, if you understand why it is you are doing what you are doing it will make you a better cook. You may know the author as the "mad food scientist" on Good Eats. Infact, reading her book I think Alton "borrows" quite a bit from her.
posted by crypticgeek at 7:49 PM on May 28, 2006

A Thermapen instant-read digital food thermometer. (My review on Cool Tools here.)
posted by Joleta at 11:02 PM on May 28, 2006

As an ex-chef I would have loving a set of Global knives or anything in the Global line when I started out

posted by patphelan at 12:41 AM on May 29, 2006

The school will have lists of recommended equipment. He simply must get that and only that (even if he hates it and switches to something else the minute he graduates). Culinary school instruction is done in the old-fashioned way, by shouting, browbeating and dumping everything a student does into the garbage. The last thing he needs is stuff that sets him off from the rest of the class. He needs to become perfect with any and every piece of equipment.

I might get him a gift certificate at Bridge Kitchenware, so he can choose for himself. Another possibility is taking him to dinner at several top restaurants, so he can see how the pros do it in the real world.
posted by KRS at 7:07 AM on May 29, 2006

Take him to dinner. A lot. While my brother was at CIA, he enjoyed dining out frequently to see how it was done in the real world.

Many schools require a specific knife kit and supply set upon entrance, as well as the purchase of a uniform, but I remember that my brother augmented his set with global knives and a digital thermometer almost immediately.

Kitchen clogs: dankos or birkenstocks. I understand the birks can be tossed in a dishwasher.

A subscription to Cooks Illustrated or Saveur.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 4:33 AM on May 30, 2006

What about a gift certificate an amazing restaurant? As a student he probably can't afford meals at a place like Alinea or the French Laundry, but eating at such restaurants can be so eye-opening and inspiring for anyone passionate about food. If those are too $$ and/or too far away, maybe something great that's local?

Things are nice, but chefs are very particular and it takes time to figure out what you like best and what works for you. (E.g shoes, I swear by my Dansko clogs in the kitchen but a sous chef I worked with said they killed his feet and he couldn't wear them for more than five minutes.) A meal is an experience he'll remember for a life time.
posted by megnut at 7:12 AM on May 30, 2006

I'm currently a student at a culinary school...the knives they give us are fine, but as far as knives are concerned, one size does NOT fit all. I did end up buying a mid range chef's knife for myself for class just so that my hand would fit around it! :)

If he is able to use personal stuff during class, don't spend huge amounts of money on the class stuff...and spring for a dremel tool with an etching burr for the stuff he does have....EVERYONE has exactly the same stuff at the start, but I guarantee that not everyone takes care of it the same way.

As for stuff for heading off to school? Books. I've probably bought $500 in cook books and cooking technique books in the last 3 months and I'm a Management student with only 3 months of kitchen work in school :)

Subscriptions to Gourmet, Saveur, and cooks illustrated all are good bets, gastronomique and chocolatier are amazing as well, but $$.

Anything about food science is hot right now, the top restaurant in the world is The Fat Duck which does molecular gastronomy mixing science with cooking, so stuff like Cookwise, On Food and Cooking and anything by Alton Brown are all good.

A Gift Cert to if you are from a different area than where he lives/goes to school or a local restaurant supply place if you are in the area.

Heck, even a gift cert to a local grocery store comes in handy if he's not living at home...even if he is, we still ended up buying some of our own ingredients once in a while and some of the hardcoare culinary students think a weekend of fun is snagging some cooking DVDs from the school library and trying the stuff on the shows.

Anyway....just one opinion :)

posted by legotech at 1:39 AM on May 31, 2006 [3 favorites]

A gift certificate to Whole Foods or some other gourmet grocery store isn't a bad idea. I know I'd love that. :)
posted by skechada at 2:04 AM on May 31, 2006

I'd put a sharpening stone system at top of the list. Those knives need to stay sharp to prevent accidents.

And "Soul of a Chef".
posted by saffry at 7:13 PM on August 31, 2006

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