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The 2017 Gift Guide for cooks from the chef behind The American Table |

The 2017 Gift Guide for cooks from the chef behind The American Table

This holiday season’s gift guide contains a book by a real-life hero chef who built an empire by valuing his busboys, a set of nifty ceramic stoneware oyster shells, a tasty tequila and “the last knife you ever buy.”

For the cook who has everything

Town Cutler knife sets: Galen Garretson wants this to be the last knife you ever buy. The former chef always loved knives, even as a kid. After tiring of the restaurant kitchen life, he worked as a butcher and became an expert knife sharpener. In 2011 he opened up Town Cutler, a shop selling and sharpening knives in San Francisco. Two years later, he sold his first handmade Town Cutler knife and says that there was a lot of trial and error to making that knife. Those trials paid off. Today, his collection of handmade knives are functional art pieces. I fell in love with the heavy feel and sleek look of the knives. These knives are a cut above.


For the holiday, Town Cutler is putting together two kits, one For the Chef with an 8.5-inch chef knife, scabbard, palette knife for plate decoration and leather knife roll ($450). And one For the Butcher, which includes a 6-inch Hankotsu knife (favored by butchers), scabbard, palette knife and leather knife roll for $450. towncutler.com

For cooks who like to drink

French Duralex Picardie Tumblers: Drinking glasses are personal. They have to feel good in your hand, look good and be durable. I like my glasses to be sturdy, functional and elegant. That’s a lot to ask, but the tempered glass tumblers from Duralex check all the boxes. You can use the glasses for hot or cold drinks and they store easily because they are stackable. The glasses are microwave and dishwasher safe, impact and chip resistant and lovely to use. The set of 18 ($69.95) includes six of each, small (8.75 ounce), medium (12 ounce) and large glasses (17 ounce). I also like the smaller 4.4-ounce size for espresso and sipping bourbon and tequila neat. They can be ordered separately to complete your set at surlatable.com.

Grand Mayan Tequila

The first time I saw Grand Mayan Ultra Aged Tequila was about 10 years ago. I was at a liquor store in Los Angeles and I was struck by the beautiful hand-painted ceramic decanter. I gambled and bought the bottle based on looks alone and boy, oh boy, was I rewarded. The color, aroma and smooth taste rival my favorite aged bourbons for choice sipping. Deep with nutty caramel, vanilla and blue agave notes, this is tequila that you sip neat.

The Ultra Aged has a younger sibling, the award-winning Grand Mayan Silver. It is triple distilled, resulting in a crystal-clear spirit that is the cleanest silver tequila I have ever tasted. The sparkling fresh 100 percent blue agave tequila is perfect for drinking over ice with a splash of citrus or mixing into almost any cocktail.

From my first taste of Grand Mayan a decade ago, I have had my eyes open for that bottle but I couldn’t find it outside of Los Angeles — that is, until now. Luckily for the rest of the country, Grand Mayan is now distributed nationally by MS Walker and at binnys.com. The cost is $100 for the Ultra Aged, $70 for the Silver.

Little Book “The Easy” Blended Straight Whiskey: Fans of Booker’s bourbon will love Little Book. It was released in October from Freddie Noe, son of 7th Generation Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe. I am a personal fan of Booker’s and a huge fan of American whiskey, so I couldn’t wait to taste Freddie Noe’s first release in the Little Book series. The new limited-release whiskey is Little Book “The Easy.” It is aptly named as it goes down easy. Smooth and rich and perfectly balanced, it is destined to become a fast favorite. Little Book “The Easy” is available nationwide for $79.99 for a 750-milileter bottle and at binnys.com. If you miss it, take heart because the distillery plans to release a new expression every fall.

For cooks who like to read

‘L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home’ by David Lebovitz (Crown, $27): It’s easy to think that David Lebovitz is living a dream life. Cooking, writing about food, giving chocolate tours and living in Paris. But that old saying, “nothing worth having is easy,” comes to mind when you read his latest book. It’s a memoir about buying and renovating his Paris home. If you ever dreamed of having an apartment in Paris, this book is required reading.

‘NOBU’

by Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa (Atria Books, $30)

This year, many new food memoirs by chefs, bloggers and food writers were published. I read a stack of the books and was struck by how tedious and self-indulgent so many of them are. Maybe memoirs by the very nature of the genre are self-serving.? And, then I sat down to read a memoir by the most famous of all the authors, Nobu.

Most people know Nobu as the highly acclaimed chef proprietor of 47 Nobu and Matsuhisa restaurants and six hotels around the world with partners who include Robert De Niro.

I was instantly struck by how humble and inspiring his story was — or rather, how simply and humbly he presented his story and his life philosophy. Nobu is one of the good guys who has become famous by the old-fashioned tenets of being a family man, hard work, passion and perseverance even in the face of adversity. Forget about reading self-help books for motivation and guidance. Read Nobu and experience a real-life hero who built an empire and a good life by valuing his busboys as highly as his executive chefs. This is inspiration by example.

For cooks who like tools

Loftin Oyster Shells: I like to grill oysters on the half shell, which makes for a pretty presentation and fail-safe grilling. The tough shell protects the delicate oysters from the hot fire, tampering the heat and transferring it through the shell. But, if you are not comfortable with shucking oysters, or can’t find whole oysters in the shell, then I have a gift for you.

Loftin Oyster Shells are made from ceramic stoneware. The life-like oyster shells are handmade from high-fire ceramic in Louisiana where oysters reign. Best is that they are uniform with flat bottoms, which stop the shells from rocking on the grill. The beautiful re-usable shells will hold one large or two smaller oysters. Their oyster grilling tong is especially helpful for taking the oysters off the grill. Suggested retail is $69 for a set of 12 shells and $18.49 for the tong/lifter at loftinoysters.com.

Ninja Intelli-Sense Kitchen System: This machine surprised me and made me a new fan of Ninja products. As anyone who knows me knows, I love a good gadget. And, when a friend told me about the Ninja Intelli-Sense Kitchen System, I knew that I had to try it. There is one base (think brain) and four attachments that will blend, chop, make individual smoothies and spiralize. In effect, this one appliance replaces my food processor, my smoothie machine, my blender — and my hand-cranked spiralizer — that didn’t work well anyway. It goes for $199.75 at ninjakitchen.com.

Sous Vide Joule: I just decided to sous vide my steak for dinner tonight. It may sound like a big project but it’s not. I have started to think of my Joule sous vide circulator by Chef Steps as a fancy slow-cooker that makes cooking dinner and entertaining easier. Add warm water to a Dutch oven, insert the Joule, turn on the Joule with the phone app, add your food and cook. It’s that simple.

You put your food in a heavy-duty re-closeable plastic bag — vacuum sealing is no longer a must — and attach it to the side of your pot with a chip clip. The Joule runs with an app that is so intuitive that you don’t need to be tech savvy to use it. You search for the food that you want to cook, choose a degree of doneness and the size of the food, i.e., a 2-inch thick steak, and turn it on by phone.

One added bonus is that with sous-vide cooking, it is next to impossible to overcook your food. The Joule comes in two finishes, stainless for $199 and white for $179 at chefsteps.com/joule.

Stocking stuffers

Cast Iron care kit by Lodge: I love all things Lodge cast iron, but they can be a little tricky to clean. Now that all of their cast-iron pans come pre-seasoned, it makes cast-iron accessible to every cook, beginner to master chef. The properties of cast iron make it a cinch for searing, crisping and baking. Lodge has packaged a Seasoned Cast Iron CARE KIT for cast-iron cookware ($26). Inside the kit are use and care tips, a pan scraper, scrub brush, seasoning spray and a silicone hot handle holder as a bonus. You can give this to your favorite cook as a stocking stuffer or add it to a Lodge cast-iron pan for an extra-special gift. I am partial to the 10-inch cast-iron chef skillet for $25.50 and the 10.5-inch square cast-iron skillet for $32. shop.lodgemfg.com/prodcat/indoor-accessories.asp

Meat thermometers by ThermoWorks: ThermoWorks has been in business for more than 20 years and is serious about its thermometers. They make a variety and my favorite is the Thermopen. It’s the barbecue and chef community’s choice of instant-read thermometer because it is fast, accurate and the foldable probe makes it easy to carry. The foldaway thermocouple probe is strong but thin and goes into meat quickly and efficiently without leaving large holes for juices to escape through. I love that it folds into the plastic body and is thin, and I would buy it for those two features alone. But the fact that it is fast and accurate seals the deal. It can read the internal temperature in 2-3 seconds. Thermopen ($99) is handmade in England and comes in your choice of 10 colors at thermoworks.com/Thermapen-Mk4.

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