What NOT to Get the Cook on Your List

Photo: flickr/a100tim

It’s that time of year again. Catalogs bombard the mailslot like heavy artillery. William Sonoma, Harry & David, Swiss Colony, Chef’s Catalog, Walnut Acres Organic Farms, Hickory Farms, Omaha Steaks, Stonewall Kitchen, Sur la Table, Zingerman’s. If you’ve got a foodie on your holiday shopping list, your fingers are probably itching to enter that www or dial that 1-800. Halt! It’s time we cooks came clean…


Gift: Perfect Pasta Timer
Comment: I’ve already got a fail-safe method for testing pasta. It’s called my mouth.
Final resting place: Straight to the clutter drawer, where it can commiserate with the other abandoned kitchen gadgets—Miss Melon Baller, Mr. Meat Thermometer, Ms. Pizza Wheel, Madam Apple Corer and Lemon-Zester-chan.

Gift: 18″ Paella Pan
Comment: OMG, this thing is huge. You must be suffering from kitchen dysmorphic disorder. Where the @$#? am I going to keep it? And more to the point, why would I want to waste valuable kitchen real estate on something I’m going to use once or twice a year?
Final resting place: Behind the outgrown kids’ bikes in the basement. I’ll just haul it upstairs when YOU come over…

Gift: Yum-O! The Family Cookbook (hardcover)
Comment: I appreciate what Rachel Ray does, I really, really do. She makes a from-scratch dinner possible and even fun for millions of time-pressed Americans. But, in case you hadn’t noticed, I actually like to cook. (And on the days that I’m not in the mood, my husband gets take-out or does frozen and, know what?, that’s totally okay.) In fact, the part I like best is inventing new dishes and re-interpreting old ones. Every now and then I do read a cookbook. (Usually something along the lines of Sephardic Cooking or the 1878 Gulf City Cook Book.) In bed, with a cocktail, as if it were a novel. Then I never open it again.
Final resting place: Gathering dust between The Three Ingredient Cookbook and Maple Syrup Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner.

Gift: Tower Full of Joys
Comment: Hear that? It’s the sound of molars and premolars being gnashed together. I spent hours roasting cauliflower florets, green beans and eggplant disks and reducing shallots and thyme to nibble on before my delicious but admittedly somewhat saturated-fat heavy dinner of roast beef, garlic potatoes, salad and chocolate mousse (salmonella be damned!). Now I’ll have to sideline my healthy and artistically heaped platter to pass around some nitrite-laced sausages, orange cheese with a nuclear melting point and “Incredible Spreadables®,” whatever the hell those are.
Final resting place: Your hips, sucka! I’m noshing my own hors d’oeuvres in here.

We know you mean well. But unless we sent you a link, dropped a major hint (“Boy, I could really use a .9 quart Mauviel copper saucepan, only $114.95″), or have an obvious collection (yeah, I’ve already got a half dozen 50s aprons, but they’re so darn cute), please refrain from getting us anything kitchen-related. Because we cooks are fussy. Oh. So. Fussy. And until you’ve spent hours in front of our stoves, you’re not going to understand why we prefer a motley assortment of iron, copper and stainless steel pots to a matching set from All-Clad. (How decorative, darling! *shudder*) Or why we hate the beefy silicone spatula you bought. (A flimsy, cheap-ass one is best for prying the cookee from the cooker.) And don’t even get me started on the spillage that happens when you’re a left-handed cook wielding a right-handed ladle. It may not look that way, but everything is exactly how we want it. So if you’re casting about for present ideas, why not consider something a little less intimate, say a custom-fitted foundation garment?

(Oh, and those gift baskets? Just don’t.)

Wondering what we would like? Thought you’d never ask!


  • Wine, fine chocolate and quirky, tasty things you pick out yourself
  • Two places (one for each of us) in food or drink-related classes or events
  • A good nonfiction book, food literature, or a recipe collection by someone with a unique world view

32 thoughts on “What NOT to Get the Cook on Your List

  1. Ken Albala

    This is absolutely hilarious, and all too true. For my recent birthday I was given a weird rotary cheese grater thingy witha crank. I thought, what’s wrong with the old fashioned hand grater I’ve had for 20 years. And how do you get Parmigino into the little chamber anyway? Gadgets either work all too well or they’re invented for the sole purpose of giving as gifts from people who know no better.

  2. Miss Hawke


    Shoot me in the foot with the number of people who know I love food and to cook and get me another set of cookie cutters… or cute little timer… and yes – PLEASE – wine, or chocolates never are a bad option, even if for some reason it’s not a kind I like (which is near impossible) I can always seem like quite the hostess when I offer it to others.

    Thank you for putting it so well! Save my clutter drawer from yet one more little useless piece of junk!

  3. katya

    Actually I’ve found that cooking has helped my friends and relatives out immensely. when my main interest was shakespeare plays, i got a lot of oddly themed games and teapots…

  4. Spice Sherpa

    Thanks for the smiles this morning. I definitely run an anti-too-gadgety kitchen. Although I am a sucker for All-Clad and really do use my pizza wheel and stone pretty regularly. That said, I think if someone wants to get a cook/chef/foodie something for the holidays the best route to take is actual ingredients. Contribute to the creativity…not the tool collection.

  5. Charmian @Christie's Corner

    Oh, oh, oh, I’m soooo with you. Add to this a bright yellow plastic lemon keeper shaped like a lemon, which takes up three times the amount of space as a lemon. And if you have the lemon keeper, you will also want the lime keeper. Same size, only green.

  6. Gary Allen

    Please, please… no single-purpose thingy made of plastic.

    I’ve been making Chinese dumplings, by hand (the only way, by the way) for decades, but still someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a hinged piece of white plastic that ostensibly makes perfect pleats.

    It doesn’t, it never has, and never will.

    What it will do well is last forever in a landfill.

  7. Susanne Shavelson

    Hey! Don’t knock my All-Clad! If anyone is wondering, I’d like The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, by Gil Marks.

  8. Carol Penn-Romine

    I could open my own kitchen store filled with gadgets I’ve been given and will never use. One large section could be called “gadgets for performing chores you can do with a chef’s knife.” I know people mean well, but sometimes it’s difficult to be a gracious recipient. I’m working on it.

  9. Andrew

    Do you really have no use for a lemon zester? Get zesting! There are numberless uses for citrus zest; use your imagination. I liked the article, though.

  10. Elizabeth

    Family members have gifted us with the following unrequested delights: canister cheese grater that we’re still not sure how to operate, slatted bread board so that crumbs fall into the tray that hardly fits, several assorted and unused trays, identical cat spoonrests from our mothers who live in different states, a large pasta machine that we moved to three apartments before selling, another small French press, and camping coffee mugs. And that’s just what I remember and/or that we still have.

  11. Charity

    I find this article both annoying/whiney and kind of funny! Why is this cook/writer keeping all these things? Give them to Goodwill or Salvation Army to help others! I cook a lot and I think cookbooks are always a good idea for presents BUT should always be given with a gift receipt so the person can return them if they want. And the wine idea is good but overdone, though I definitely agree on the cooking class idea. Or at least a gift card to a cooking school.

  12. Martha Dyer

    My aunt used to say about all these gadgets: “Something you don’t want, don’t need and won’t use”. Sums it up perfectly….

  13. June

    lol, too funny!! And oh so true!! I think the worst kitchen I got was a silicone cupcake pan in the shape of ice cream cones. ummm, I put cake batter in ice cream cones for the kids, but a cone made of cake?? Do I frost it? Won’t it be wobbly then? Not to frost, do they hold them then? A friend suggested using them to make towers for a castle cake. So a cake that has twelve towers? Or six (or twelve) castle cakes? Just couldn’t figure it out!!

  14. David

    If I hear the word “foodie” one more time my head’s going to explode.

    Who came up with this stupid word?

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  16. Christine

    In my Italian-American house growing up, and on my Grandmother’s table (she was from Italy), we always used the rotary cheese grater. I don’t know if they are more or less “authentic.”

  17. Tanya T

    Well put!! Although… I actually DO use ” Mr. Meat Thermometer, Ms. Pizza Wheel, Madam Apple Corer and Lemon-Zester-chan.” But in all other cases, funny and agreed!

  18. Jason Zielonka

    Bravo, Anastacia! There’s really nothing else to say, you’ve done it so perfectly.

    My only contribution is to make certain this is distributed to as many cooks as I can (and since I volunteer teach at a cooking school, that will be easy) and to as many potential gift-givers as I can, to make certain the message is widely distributed ….

  19. Emily380

    The thing I hate to receive the most are boxed mixes. I love to cook and bake from SCRATCH. What in the world am I going to do with a MIX? It’s actually kind of insulting because it means this family member doesn’t understand what I love.

  20. Omi Cantor

    What I would love is a really good book that converts recipes to kosher. No- not pork to whatever but how can I make interesting kosher food without using chemicals and phony substitutes.

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  22. Elsa

    Though I understand the sentiment, I couldn’t disagree more with the tenor of this piece. Just because I’m passionate about cooking doesn’t mean I’m a grouchy snob who turns her nose up at cheezy nostalgic foods or unexpected equipment.

    As much as I loathe the consumerist culture that fosters frantic, random giftgiving, when someone takes the time to think “Hmm, Elsa likes cooking. I bet she’d love this,” I really appreciate the gesture — and surprisingly often, even if they’ve chosen something unexpected and seemingly a bad fit, that item finds a place in my kitchen routine.

  23. Daniel Thompson

    Beautiful, cooks are difficult-about everything. I think if you are shopping for a cook you should go to a restaurant supply store. Inexpensive plastic bowl scrapers are always handy. An Arkansas wet stone can be passed on as a birthday gift after the holidays.

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