Henri’s list

Advice on culinary gifts for all pocketbooks

Photo Illustration by Carey Wilson

Dear Henri:

Can you recommend some culinary gifts for a friend who loves to cook and who’s been naughty only a few times this year? I really want this holiday season to be special.

Corky S.

Dear Corky:

Henri would be happy to recommend several fabulous kitchen-oriented gifts for the cook in your life. Of course, there’s a wide range of prices, as well. You’ll have to decide how much to spend, Corky, depending on just how naughty your friend has been.

$1,000: A course at the Greystone campus of the Culinary Institute of America, the premier cooking school in the country. Usually costing about $900 and running four or five days, courses at the CIA include Wedding Cakes/Advanced Decorating; Small Dishes, Big Flavors: Appetizers and First Courses; Winemaking for Non-winemakers; Artisan Bread Baking; Baking and Pastry for Chefs; Soups, Stocks, Sauces, Salsas; and Cooking Principles.

While some of the courses are intended for professionals and other highly experienced cooks, others are aimed at those with less experience. For a complete list of courses and descriptions, as well as prices and required skill levels, go to www.ciachef.edu and click on Greystone Culinary Arts Programs. The campus is located in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, about two and a half hours from Chico.

$500: A complete set of quality cookware. Of course, Henri has made plenty of fabulous meals with inferior cookware—it can be done—but there’s nothing like cooking with quality pots and pans. The best? Henri says Calphalon or his very favorite, All-Clad. There are four different grades of All-Clad, and all are top-notch—also top price—using three interior layers of aluminum to distribute the heat evenly, and the long, heavy handles are perfectly balanced and stay cool. If not the whole set, perhaps the 16-quart stock pot or a 10-inch fry pan (both about $100). You can get All-Clad cookware in Chico at The Galley and Collier Hardware.

Under $100: One word: knives. All cooks need good knives, and one can’t own too many. Look for forged steel that goes all the way through the handle. Two of the best knife brands are Wusthof and Henckels. A good six-inch chef’s or utility knife will cost $60-$80 and a good paring knife $40-$60.

Under $25: The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer. This classic cookbook, first printed in 1931, contains over 4,000 recipes and is an absolute must for any cook. Julia Child says if she could own just one cookbook, it would be this one, and Craig Claiborne calls it a masterpiece. Where else can you read about preparing opossum ("If possible, trap ‘possum and feed it milk and cereals for ten days before killing"), beaver tail ("Hold over open flame until rough skin blisters"), and 100-lb. turtles ("The greenish meat from the top of the shell is considered the best")? A new edition, The New Joy of Cooking, has just been published, but be forewarned: The modern information on grilling, flavored oils, and ethnic salsas comes at the cost of canning, pickling and wild-game information, much of which has been deleted.

A subscription to Cooks Illustrated, Henri’s favorite cooking magazine, hands down. This monthly, ad-less publication includes long features on seasonal foods, recipes and product reviews (food and cookware) and always has a framable back cover—hand drawings of varieties of a particular food, from pears and berries to crustaceans and edible flowers, depending on the season. Editor Christopher Kimball’s first-person essays alone—sometimes about food, more often about life in his small New England community—are worth the price of a subscription. Go to cooksillustrated.com

Stocking Stuffers (all under $15): Henri can think of nothing that would satisfy a cook more than a stocking stuffed with items for the kitchen. The following are fail-safe: spatulas, wooden spoons, measuring cups and spoons, garlic presses and slicers, whisks, cooking thermometers, veggie peelers and jars of fresh flavored peppercorns. Other wonderful small, inexpensive items include mortar-and-pestle sets, oil misters, flavored mustards, and the all-purpose Microplane (the perfect tool for grating hard cheese and nutmeg and for zesting lemons and oranges).

Bon chance, Corky, and happy holidays to you and yours.