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Gifts for someone entering culinary school

A young relative is graduating from high school and will be entering a highly respected culinary program in the fall. I want to get him gifts that will help him in his next endeavors. I thought about helping him start a knife collection, or maybe giving him the set of textbooks from the CIA (which he is not attending). What gifts would you suggest for someone just starting his professional relationship with cooking?

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  1. gift cert to a place where he can try out & choose his own knives (very personal decision). if you want to give something more concrete, a nice professional knife roll/case would be good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: soupkitten

      Really good point about the knives, soupkitten. He lives in a really small town w/ no culinary stores near, which is why I thought buying knives would be a good idea. But your point is a well-taken one.

      1. re: mtbwustl

        in that case i don't see how you could go wrong with getting him a top quality boning knife or smaller utility knife. these are essential knives that are often skimped on (in terms of quality) by many folks in the culinary field, because the natural impulse is to buy the very best main chopping knives you can possibly afford-- so you see lots of folks 10 years into it with fantastic main knives they've replaced & upgraded 4-5 times, while they are still using the same relatively mediocre boning knife they got in the set at culinary school. . . uh, and be sure to tape a penny to the box if you present your relative with a knife. many chefs follow the old superstition about gift knives, or so i've heard ;-P

        another thought: if any of the teachers at the culinary school he's going to have published a major book, that might also be a nice gift-- he'll go into class being somewhat familiar with the chef's work & possibly with one of his course textbooks already purchased.

    2. Knives are the obvious choice. But I don't think expensive, high-end knives are a good or appropriate way to start out. It would be like an aspiring race car driver going out and buying a Ferrari, then showing up with it at the local track. It's just not on.

      My suggestion would be a few excellent but very general-use professional knives such as Victorinox Fibrox handle ones or Dexter-Russell Sani-safes. These are found in restaurant kitchens everywhere, are NSF rated, are inexpensive, and will certainly work well for the beginner (and not cause him to be razzed by his new colleagues like a rhinestone cowboy, as would fancy expensive Japanese or German hardware). He can cut his teeth on these, and when he's ready to step up (if he wants to) he'll be better able to focus on what will really work best for him.

        1. I feel like the ants at a picnic, but will throw a small damp blanket on the idea of giving this young person, just entering culinary school, anything that he/she will take to school. Unfortunately, in this environment, items have a peculiar way of growing legs and walking away. I would suggest a gift that the new student will keep at home. Reference books come to mind [Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" is classic] (edit:sk's suggestion of an instructor's personal book is excellent) or a set of garnishing tools for Garde Manger class practice if this would be of interest. A Bamix immersion blender is a wonderful gift as is a copper saute pan w/ lid. All of the above would be kept at home.
          Disclaimer: I taught in a professional culinary school for five years and watched this disappearing act with disturbing frequency. Many schools provide incoming students with a basic knife set, as well as uniforms, for their time in school so buying a knife may not be the best plan for now. By graduation, the students know exactly what they want for knives, etc. Perhaps, as a culinary school graduation gift, you could reconsider a knife.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sherri

            Yes, I agree.

            I'm on the side of not buying knives -- they do often "walk away" in culinary school. Most culinary schools supply a knife kit that is perfectly adequate. Yes, the student may want to supplement these with others for use at home, but it's not necessary and perhaps not really useful at this point (later on, of course).

            I'd be more inclined to give a gift of an experience -- a meal at a restaurant that displays exemplary technique or flavor development. Or an evening of "flavor hopping." This is what my friends and I used to do while in culinary school: go to three restaurants in an evening and get an appetizer and a glass of wine at each -- enough time to survey the menu, understand the restaurant's concept and evaluate if a return visit is in order.

            Additional cookbooks/cooking science books are often desired. I fully agree about the Harold McGee book
            and other cooking science books.

            Here's another suggestion that may sound odd: laundry service. It's important that your white chef jackets look crisp and clean every day, and if there's a laundry/dry cleaners near where the student lives, this would be a great gift. Especially if the student does not have a washer/dryer in their home.

            Ipsedixit makes an excellent suggestion: students are always short on money, though I sense you would prefer your gift to be solidly attached to a thing, experience, much-needed service or luxury.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              One thing with the money, if the OP wants to ensure that the money is used AFTER graduation from culinary school, maybe buy a CD that matures on the day of graduation.

          2. I'm days away from completing my first semester at culinary school, so thought I'd chime in.

            Knives are nice, but if he's going to take them to school, for the love of God, not expensive knives.
            You might consider getting him a little engraver, or paying to have his nicer stuff engraved, because as was mentioned, equipment has a way of growing little legs and walking away...

            A good knife for personal use never hurts, though.
            A knife/equipment case or roll is VERY useful if he doesn't already have one.
            A good, comfortable set of proper kitchen shoes... not "fun," but very necessary and very practical...

            All of these things, though, are very personal -- you'd have to give a gift certificate of some kind. That might be the best thing, even -- a gift card to Sur La Table or someplace similar.

            If you want something lighthearted -- get him a lovely selection of various band-aids and finger cots. You'll all have a laugh -- and he'll be happy he has them eventually. ;)