Silpats. And even registries aren't to be wholly trusted.It's wedding season! In other words, time to buy run-of-the-mill cutting boards and oh-so-personal measuring cups for your nearest and dearest. Wedding registries certainly simplify things, but there's just nothing gratifying about honoring a special occasion with a motley mix of spoons and
"We thought we wanted a panini press," says Jessica Maher, who owns the Austin, TX, restaurant Lenoir with her husband, Todd Duplechan. Turns out, they didn't really. After four or five Sundays of panini-making, they got tired of it, and haven't used the press in years.
So what's a food-loving wedding guest to do? We asked chefs across the country what gifts they're excited to give friends and family members, or what they'd be excited to receive themselves.
"It's really nice to have tried-and-true pieces of equipment that'll last your marriage," says Jenn Louis, chef of Lincoln in Portland, OR. That's why she suggests a small collection of antique cast-iron pans. They're ultra-durable, so "till death do us part" shouldn't be a problem. And by choosing antiques, you'll deliver well-seasoned pans and up the charm factor. (Louis says you can also get some cool newer cast-iron pieces at smaller hardware stores.)
Pick a few different varieties--a 10-inch skillet the couple will get plenty of use out of on weeknights, something bigger that'll work well for entertaining, and something unexpected, like a special fried-chicken pan or a plancha flat-top. Rust isn't a dealbreaker with used cast-iron (though you should re-season it before gifting), but if the item is cracked, keep looking.
(See more: Wedding gowns under $300 )
A Custom Cookbook
When James McDuffee, chef at Joseph Leonard in New York, isn't behind the stove at the West Village spot, you might find him...behind the stove at his apartment, coming up with recipes to celebrate his friends' nuptials.
Searching for a a personal and unique gift, McDuffee and his girlfriend Allison Deiboldt decided to create cookbooks from scratch. McDuffee steers clear of restaurant-style recipes, instead choosing ones that are geared toward young couples busy with work, like grilled steak with farro or a twist on a gin-and-tonic. This gift is easier to pull off for McDuffee and Deiboldt than for the rest of us--he's a pro with recipes, and she knows how to bind books herself--but it's achievable even for amateurs, thanks to programs like iPhoto. The whole process is labor- and time-intensive (McDuffee says he's still behind on gifts for a few friends...), "but when your friends call you and tell you they made the roast chicken recipe tonight," McDuffee says, it's worth it.
Le Creuset Deep Sauté Pan
"It was the best purchase I ever made," says Britton Bauer, who has given two people the pan this year. The super deep skillet has become her kitchen workhorse, making weekly appearances for Sunday roast chicken, ratatouille, fried chicken, even reheating pizza. Britton Bauer also sends along recipes for some of the quick and simple staples she makes in the pan.
A Cook's Toolkit
For bridal showers, Jessica Maher of Lenoir gives a collection of tools that she finds most useful.
"I think a lot of people go into adulthood not knowing all the kitchen tools that will make their lives easier," she says.
For a coffee lover, or anyone who loves to entertain, there's no cooler coffee set-up than a Chemex ($40).
"We use one at the restaurant when we're taste-testing coffees," says Ryan Pera, chef of Revival Market in Houston, who says it brings out the beans' pure flavor. Plus, the simply stylish equipment is "a showpiece," perfect for the end of a dinner party. "You get 'oohs' and 'aahs,'" Pera says. Bolster the gift with some of our favorite Chemex accessories.
"I've been eyeing this for a while, waiting for a good person to give it to," says Anna Shovers, pastry chef at The Publican in Chicago, of this lemon tree ($100, from Williams-Sonoma).
Kevin Morrison knows a lot about wedding gifts; the Denver-based chef of Pinche Tacos has been married three times. So we trust him when he says that an experiential gift like a cooking class will stand out among the glassware.
"It's something totally different," he says. You've got to know the couple you're shopping for: Are they beginners who would benefit from some introductory cooking classes as they start a home? Old pros who'd like something more unusual, like a sushi- or mozzarella-making class?
"It's a fun evening, he says. "And then they can build from that."
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