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Gifts to Buy for Novice Cooks

by Liam Williams
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While only experience can teach you how to be an amazing cook (timing, instinct, a good palate, techniques, etc.), you can give your friend or loved one a boost in the right direction here by buying some of the best essentials today’s culinary market has to offer. These are their things I wish I had gotten starting out in the kitchen and that I still use today almost every time I cook.

Chefs Knife

While this may both seem obvious and a little bit generic, odds are that the beginner chef doesn’t have a high-quality chef’s knife in his or her toolkit. Maybe they couldn’t afford a great one, or maybe they’re just not from a family of cooks, therefore, don’t have access to the best equipment. One of the first things any chef learns in culinary school is basic knife skills, and feeling the grip and weight of a really good knife can inspire a lot of confidence, and they last far longer.  When it comes to a Chefs Knife, get the best one you can afford to keep from wasting money buying inferior ones and rebuying another one in the future. I highly recommend the Wusthof Classic 8-inch Chef knife for versatility and the Wustof Classic 12-inch Chef knife for more demanding work.

Knife Sharpener

Say the cook you have in mind already has an amazing knife. Well, you can’t go wrong with a sharpener. Not only should kitchen knives always be razor-sharp, but there are also countless styles of sharpeners out there and I guarantee no novice chef has them all. From whetstones to manual sharpeners to electric sharpeners the selection is literally endless both when it comes to price and make. Personally, I recommend buying a novice chef a whetstone because nothing beats that first-timer learning curve and I firmly believe that every chef should start with the basics.  Remember, more accidents in the kitchen are caused by dull knives! For budding chefs, it’s always good to start them with a good quality dual-sided 1000/6000 whetstone to keep a nicely honed edge. For those who don’t have the time to sit down and work with whetstones then a Bavarian Edge Kitchen Knife Sharpener by BulbHead pull-through sharpener can condition knives in just a few seconds.

Stock Pot

Along with knife cuts, making stock and broth are another one of those first things a cook has to perfect in culinary school. It’s the basis of all cooking from soups and sauces to braising and deglazing stock is one of the most important skills any chef should have, and there’s no better way to promote that than a shiny new stockpot. The Ecolution Pure Intentions Stainless Steel Stock Pot/Stockpot with Tempered Glass Steam Vented Lid, 8-Quart is an excellent stand-alone stockpot for any home cook, for a full-set, then you can’t go wrong with the Cuisinart 77-412 Chef’s Classic Stainless 4-Piece 12-Quart Pasta/Steamer Set. 

Mise en Place Ramekins

A French culinary term that means ‘putting in place’. It refers to chefs preparing all their ingredients beforehand thus to avoid any lag that could occur from cutting board to a frying pan. The difference between beautifully golden and burns can be a matter of seconds and often is, not to mention time seems to move a lot faster when you have 2 pots on the stove, a tray in a hot oven, and perhaps something on the grill outside. The dishes promote cleanliness and organization which is key to razor-sharp focus on the dish they’re preparing.  Two great sets that make for absolutely perfect gifts are the Duralex 12 Piece Bowl Set of Six and the Maredash Mini Bowls 4 Inch Glass Bowls for Kitchen Prep.

A Frying Pan

After the chef’s knife, sharpener, and chopping board on the list of essential cookware come a frying pan. Whether you have to sear meat, reduce a sauce, braise short ribs, or flip pancakes a frying pan should be at the top of the list (or at least very close up there). The one big piece of advice I would give to someone looking to buy a frying pan for any occasion is to get one that is ovenproof. Don’t worry too much about material or things like non-stick, speaking from personal experience I enjoyed experimenting with them all myself then deciding on my own which is my go-to (it’s stainless steel). I definitely would advise not to go too crazy with it; avoid copper and aluminum for beginners because the former is incredibly reactive and the latter often conducts heat way too quickly and scorches very easily.  The EOE Nonstick Frying Pan – Hard Anodized Aluminum with Anti-Warp Base is pretty easy to use and the AVACRAFT 18/10 Stainless Steel Frying Pan with Lid and Side Spouts is an absolutely amazing value for money stainless steel pan, perfect for beginners! 

A Cast-Iron Skillet or Dutch Oven

Cast-iron should be most southerners’ favorite pan metal not just for the aesthetic but also for their versatility. Whether you’re using it in the stove, oven, BBQ, or over an open flame, cast iron will last you a lifetime. That is if you take care of it. The biggest downside to cast iron is that it rusts, and while it’s easy enough to restore one, it’s far better to just learn to maintain one early on. Cast-iron needs to be seasoned every couple of months with an oil that has a very high smoke point (grapeseed or flax oil), so consider throwing that in your cart as well.  Cast-iron cookware like the Lodge 5-Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven with Iron Lid and the Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet (12-Inch) with Handle virtually last forever! 

A Mortar & Pestle

It is rare to find something these days that has managed to stand the test of time quite as well as the very humble yet incredibly versatile mortar and pestle. Along with knives and fire, mortars and pestles have been used by cooks and craftsmen alike since we first started carving stone. It’s an amazing way to get intimate with your cooking. Smelling whole, toasted spices as they’re being cracked, squashing fresh tomatoes for salsa, or even simply making a delicious paste as a precursor of a dish.  Two of the best mortar and pestles that we can buy online today are the Granite Mortar and Pestle by HiCoup – Natural Unpolished, Non Porous and the ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle Set – 6 Inch – 2 Cup Capacity so check them out if you’re looking for the perfect gift for a budding chef! 

Whole Spices

A jar/bag of whole spices (particularly the expensive ones like saffron) goes a long way in the hands of an experienced chef and it’s never too early to start learning. The difference is astounding especially to anyone who has a sensitive palate. Even if it’s a simple bag of peppercorns, it’ll go a long way than dull, pre-ground spices.  You can find set of Yamees Cinnamon Sticks, Whole Cloves, and Star Anise and Coriander, Cumin, and Fennel Seeds here.

A Blender

Once all the essentials are taken care of in your chef’s kitchen, it’s time to move onto the fun aspect of cooking which is customization. How does a blender do this? More than anything emulsion. Marinades, sauces, soups, smoothies, and purees are only a few of the most important functions a blender can help utilize, and they don’t always come cheap for novice cooks. A Vitamix is by far one of the best blenders on the market, but there are plenty of more budget-friendly options like the Ninja Professional Countertop Blender.

A Food Processor

I definitely find I use a blender significantly more in the kitchen than a food processor, but they are handy for some things. Things like making coarse dips like guacamole or refried beans, or making something that requires some finesse like aioli or mayonnaise.  The Ninja BN601 Professional Plus Food Processor is an amazing choice as well as the KitchenAid Easy Store Food Processor

Food Serving 

Every chef and baker I have ever met makes food largely for the purpose of feeding other people. The same applies to me. In my experience, it really doesn’t matter how much you like your own food, what makes an amazing chef is the ability to take a process as primal as eating and turn it into an unforgettable experience. There’s this general rule that anyone in the food industry will tell you, and it’s that we eat with our eyes first. Enough said. For some elegant and affordable silverware, the LIANYU 48-Piece Silverware Set with Extra Spoons is amazing value for money, and for the plates to go with them, the Amazon Basics 18-Piece Kitchen Dinnerware Set is an excellent choice. 

Cookbooks

I’d hardly ever recommend getting a basic recipe cook for any cook because, like most of mine, they’ll end up collecting dust as I create my own recipe. While the internet is convenient, it can be incredibly overwhelming when you don’t know what to search for, and if you don’t have any first-hand experience. A cookbook filled with methods, techniques, tips, and other useful advice is invaluable. There are also cookbooks on any cooking style or cuisine out there. For a beginner though, stick to the basics.  The Julia Rothman Collection: Farm Anatomy, Nature Anatomy, and Food Anatomy and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

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