Buying for that cook in the family

Holiday gift ideas for food lovers

Oliverde samples
Photo by Adelina Shee

Searching for a gift for a friend or family member who lives to cook can be a complicated process, especially when there seems to be an endless array of presents available. But, a well-equipped kitchen can transform any pad into a hospitable home. Here are a few practical gift ideas for the aspiring chef in your life.

Spices and sauces

A well-stocked spice rack sets up great stews, soups and curries. At Savory Spice Shop, different types of spices that complement each other are put together in gift sets, which come in basic starter collections, as well as in themes like “Curry Lovers” and “Dips for Chips” ($10-$50).

Each gift set can hold from four to 12 jars of different spices and can range from standard salt and pepper to more elaborate samplers like the 12-jar curry collection, says Clark Thompson, a sales associate at the store. Thompson also adds that a four-ounce jar of spice can last from eight months to a year, depending on how many people are regularly using it.

Penzey’s Spices on Pearl Street also stocks spice sampler sets with selections including unique items such as “Cheese Seasonings” made for topping salads and breads or adding a hint of cheese to baked potatoes and popcorn.

Your chef may also enjoy the simplicity of using a pre-made sauce like Stonewall Kitchen’s Honey Barbecue Sauce or Curried Mango Grille Sauce. These marinades and sauces can be used for grilling, roasting, baking and stir frying meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables.

Such sauces are great for anyone, says Gwen Zeiler, a merchandiser at Peppercorn, where a large selection of these sauces are priced at $7.95 each.

Olive oil

Athletes in Ancient Greece covered their bodies from head to toe in olive oil — which the poet Homer referred to as “liquid gold.” But with flavors like blood orange and basil now available, it’ll be foodies coveting those bottles to dress up their kitchens, not their calves.

“The most popular gifts we have are our sample sets,” says Eliah Golden, store manager at Oliverde, which sells high quality extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars. “We have six 60-milliliter bottles of oil and vinegar, as well as info and recipe cards, and people are also welcome to customize them.”

Oliverde’s ’Tis the Season sample set ($37) includes Vermont Maple, Cinnamon-Pear and Cranberry-Pear balsamic vinegar as well as Wild Mushroom and Sage, Chipotle and Lemon flavored olive oil. The Olive Press, based in California, ships balsamic vinegar sampler packs with 100 ml bottles of strawberry, peach, fig and white balsamic vinegar ($41).

Mocubo cutting board

For those who occasionally get ambitious in the kitchen and will be chopping multiple vegetables while on the mission of cooking something marvelous for the dinner table, there’s the Mocubo cutting board.

The Mocubo bamboo cutting board has three plastic food containers that slide out underneath it like drawers. Chopped ingredients can be placed into each of these containers as food is cut up, leaving the prep area mess-free and allowing would-be chefs to add ingredients to their pots or pans one at a time.

Mocubo is for sale for $39.99 on

Sphere ice molds

Some folks love to entertain with flourishes and preparations — like freezing mint leaves into their ice. For entertainers of that caliber, an ice mold designed to slow the speed at which the ice melts and dilutes the drink, could be in order. Spherical ice molds, which have less surface area and so melt more slowly, are available online, or a set of two is priced at $11.95 at Peppercorn.

Tea canisters

To keep loose tea fresh and free from mold, leaves should be kept in a dry, cool and dark place, like inside an opaque airtight container. Ku Cha Tea House on Pearl Street sells tea canisters or tea tins, which can help tea retain its flavor. These metal tea canisters are made from traditional Japanese rice paper and painted with colorful and intricate designs.

These tea canisters come in a variety of sizes, with prices ranging from $2.95 for the smallest size to $16.95 for the largest size.

Nespresso coffee machines

For busy people who are pressed for time and want to avoid wasting an entire brewed pot of coffee, Nespresso coffee machines brew single cups of coffee in under five minutes.

This line of coffee machines brews single shots of espresso using coffee grounds that come in capsules in a variety of flavors and roasts of espressos, including decaffeinated ones.

The Nespresso Essenza machine is priced at $129 while the Nespresso Pixie machine is priced at $229. Both of these products are available at Peppercorn on Pearl Street.


Those who frequently bake will appreciate the Silpat non-stick silicone-based baking mat that covers baking sheets and makes for easily lifting cookies and other baked goods from baking sheets.

“They’re a much more green option,” says Sumner Kraegel, manager at Peppercorn. “You avoid using parchment paper when baking.”

Silpat comes in a range of sizes. Standard baking sheet size, 26 inches by 18 inches, is priced at $33 at Peppercorn.

How To Cook Everything

Novice chefs in the kitchen who need help with cooking techniques and recipes can find them in How To Cook Everything, The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food, which is available in area book stores. Author Mark Bittman has included instructions for everything from chopping vegetables to roasting meat.

Bittmans also includes 1,000 pictures to accompany the 185 recipes and techniques in this cookbook ($35). Side tips and variations allow cooks to be more creative with recipes while the detailed notes offers advice for a particular recipe or technique.