Continuing our recent trend of posts about mentoring all the fresh new faces joining our industry, I whipped up a Holiday gift guide for this year focused on all the stuff that a brand new cook would need to get started in a kitchen. We’re talking about someone green, first day of culinary school green. Finally made it out of the dishpit and is about to chop their first onion green.
Continuing our other recent article trend , I’m going to be brutally honest about what they “need” in their basic kit as opposed to all the fancy, sexy toys that they “want”. Everyone’s first years as a prep cook are about building the basic skills set and learning how to use the fundamental tools of the trade. There will be no sashimi knives or spherification kits on this list.
There’s not a whole lot of really expensive gear you’ll need as a prep-monkey and most of the time restaurants will provide uniforms and whatnot. Culinary students are already burdened with all the debt incurred by tuition and textbooks so why buy a whole ton of additional crap ontop of that?
If you are the young kid about to chop that first onion, you are no-doubt under siege by your culinary college of choice to purchase all manner of additional garbage that you’ll never use out in the real working world. I was in that same spot years ago and honestly got through my career without needing ANY of it. So use this list to weed out some of the peripherals and focus on treating yourself to what’s ‘gonna help you out long-term.
And if you are the loved ones of said kid you probably have no idea what half of this stuff is or where to buy it when the holidays come ‘a knocking. Don’t worry; this list is aimed specifically at you! I’ll keep it as simple and jargon-free as possible. Now, put down that fancy, overpriced candy thermometer and pick up…
A Gift Card To A Knife Shop
Under no circumstances should one person buy another a kitchen knife… I know, I’ve done it… Buying the right knife, and I do mean THE RIGHT knife is all about holding it, feeling the balance and checking the length and weight. It’s a personal thing. It’s about knowing what you need to use it for and calculating the odds of you actually using it. Someone’s gift is never really going to be the optimum tool in the kitchen.
This is why so many green cooks have either a) A knife roll filled with a vast assortment of useless medium-to-low quality knifes in various shapes that colleagues and colleges told ‘em would someday be useful or b) A couple ‘o nifty-looking, million-dollar handmade Damascus works of art that they don’t really know how to use and would be too hesitant to use ‘em anyway in case they got even a wee bit dirty.
To avoid both of these wastes of time and money just buy the young cook in your life a gift card to your local House ‘o Knives and let them try out everything before deciding what they want. Keep the card at about a hundred and twenty bucks and you’re loved one will be able to purchase a serviceable eight to ten inch chef’s knife from any of the big companies in the game (ie. Wusthof, Henkel, Shun, Victorinox) that will last as long as they live.
Once your aspiring samurai has his/her weapon in hand it’s time for them to learn how to keep it sharp. $40 – $50 spent in the same knife store that ya’ll bought that gift card in is enough for an adequate, no-frills whetstone.
It may seem a little lame to buy someone a stone, but this is another one of those gifts that will have a dramatic effect on their later career. The best chef I know cleans and sharpens his own knife every morning before starting work and points directly to that simple bit of craftsmanship as one of the foundations of his style, work ethic, and even personality!
Oh, and don’t worry if neither you nor your protégé know how to use a stone, there are plenty of Youtube tutorials to get ‘em started.
A Kitchen Journal
I’ve already discussed to death how important I think a journal is to a cook at any stage in their career (you can read that rant here) and there is no better time to get process started than when a cook first steps into the prep area. You can shell out $10 – $100 for all manner of journals ranging from simple spiral-bound flip books to hand-crafted leather masterworks, just make sure it’s waterproof.
Via : Treadlabs.com
Kitchens are hard on the human body and especially punishing on the feet. Every moment is spent standing (or rather, slouching) and forcing the weight of whatever repetitive task the cook is doing onto his/her lower body. Nearly every lifer I know has back problems and shot knees. If you want to spare your loved one this fate, take a page from my mom’s parenting playbook:
My mom sent me a cheque the year I started working in kitchens and made me swear terrible oaths that I wouldn’t spend it on anything except a foot exam and some insoles. At the time I chalked it up to motherly paranoia and too many trips down the google rabbit hole, but I dutifully went to see a podiatrist and now, years later my legs and lower back are in much better shape than most if not all of my contemporaries.
The exam doesn’t cost all that much, but the insoles themselves are around $200 – $300 for a pair that will last roughly five years of constant use. Considering most kitchens don’t offer any sort of medical plans, consider this an investment in your prep cook’s future.
A Really Good Vegetable Peeler
Alright, aside from the chef’s knife, THIS is the only other truly essential piece of kit a young cook needs. There’s ‘gonna be lots of carrots and potatoes in this kid’s future so he might as well have a tool that will take a bit of the edge off his daily toil. Peelers are also super cheap! You can get a 3-Pack of very serviceable Kuhn Rikon peelers for about $5.
Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential
Over the last decade I’ve loaned out eight copies of crazy Uncle Tony’s legendary kitchen autobiography to young bucks that I met or mentored and never got a single one back! *laughs* Not that I expected to, it’s the kind of book that captures the heart and mind of a young cook and demands multiple readings. My generation considers it the holy bible of kitchen life and I believe it to be essential reading for the new generation as well. It will either inspire them to greatness or scare them out of kitchens before it’s too late, either way its win-win.
Happy holidays to all my kitchen kin, old and new!
If you will excuse me, I’ve got back-to-back double shifts to work starting X-Mas Eve! *laughs*