What'll it be this year: sous vide tools or a beer subscription? Post-apocalypse survival guide or a slice of French vineyard? Our Food and Drink editor delves once more into the difficult world of Christmas presents for the foodie in your life...
It’s rare that a sequel outdoes the original – but we’re hoping this Christmas food and drink gift guide will be to last year’s what The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins, Desperado was to El Mariachi, and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was to their Excellent Adventure.
And if you think that was a mouthful – yes, we did just go there – then wait ’til you get your gob around this list. We’ve gone slightly less alternative this time around, insomuch as we’re not recommending you buy the foodie in your life shares in anaerobic digesters or round-the-world trips. And we’ve put some handy categories in place for your viewing pleasure.
Things to cook with!
Do you cook stir fries at home? Do you fail to get the proper wok hei, or 'breath of the wok'? Do you even know what that means? Then you need/don’t need a WokMon, a device created by Glen Lee that supercharges traditional gas burners into something that resembles Ryu’s Hadouken attack or a jet engine (pick your favourite analogy). www.wokmon.com
Beer for drinking!
It was only a matter of time before someone took online grocery shopping and the craft beer trend, and spliced them into an alcoholic’s dream (no, that’s not lifted straight from the press release). Beer 52 send you eight different brews every month, chosen by their experts; and though their range isn’t wildly adventurous as yet, it’s either a great introduction to, or steady supply of, craft beer at a pretty reasonable £24 per month. www.beer52.com
Magical baking aids!
It's somewhat inevitable that there should be a baking tool on this list. Recently, it's come to our attention that a good way of baking bread is in – that's right, inside – a heated Dutch oven or casserole. The ideal vessel is really a Lodge Double Dutch because the lid is flat, unlike a Le Creuset for example, meaning you can put your bread on the upturned lid, then cover to bake, rather than having to get your loaf into a roasting-hot tall-sided pot. You could also gift a baking stone but a Dutch oven is more versatile – they're available from Amazon and various stores.
Inspiration-dispensing specialist online shops!
Here in the food corner, there are also a few websites we e-frequent that will give you a wealth of options for when a chocolate orange and a selection box won't do. Sous Chef (souschef.co.uk) covers cookware, gadgets and obscure ingredients: think chef tweezers, Himalayan salt plates, achiote paste, and cherry wood smoking chips. Tapas Lunch Company (thetapaslunchcompany.co.uk) and French Click (frenchclick.co.uk) are also great bets for country-specific produce from raclette to Padrón peppers. If your giftee is into a particular cuisine, be it Thai or Polish, try to find a shop or deli in your area too.
"It seems counterintuitive, but getting someone a gift that can only be enjoyed in the future isn’t a Christmas cop-out"
Wine, and more wine!
The next one will suit Mancunians best, but it’s a gift worth purchasing for anyone interested in wine who can get to Manchester – so quite a few of you, then. What you do is: you walk into Salut Wines in the city centre, you buy a shiny white pre-pay card and you put a non-miserly amount of pounds on it. Then give it to the wino, ahem, oenologue, and tell them they are now the proud owner of potential wine and that Salut has a superlative range of wines carefully stored in their fancypants Enomatic machines. So they should be grateful.
Sticking with the wine theme: it seems counterintuitive, but getting someone a gift that can only be enjoyed in the future isn’t a Christmas cop-out. Through the site www.vintagewinegifts.co.uk, you can make a lucky someone the pleased owner of a very small patch of vineyard on the Château de la Cour estate. Just north of £150 gets you several vintage bottles, a nice little certificate, a bunch of other stuff and, most importantly, preferential rates on future vintages. If your giftee doesn’t like the grape, book them onto a Sipsmith gin tour in that London in January, because gin is just so hot right now. Just make sure they’re not planning a dry month.
For the cerebral and creative folk, we’ve a trio of good reads to suggest also. We thought we’d go for one that’s fetishistic, coffee table fare; one practical, and one that’s downright hipster.
The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, by Nathan Myhrvold, will send quivers of delight through anyone whose hobbies converge on food and cameras. This tome features 300 giant images of things like blueberries, salmon, and grilled-cheese sandwiches like you’ve never seen 'em before, many from the original Modernist Cuisine book, the new foodie 'bible' – and there are tips for aspiring food photographers too.
A subscription to Lucky Peach is also pretty much guaranteed to please. It’s the self-indulgent but well-written quarterly food and drink journal founded by David Chang, owner of the now legendary Momofuku. At $90 for two years' worth of mags (eight issues shipped to the UK from the States), it’s pricey territory but delicious and Good Food magazines just don’t compare.
For fans of The Walking Dead and George A. Romero’s oeuvre who also enjoy a spot of gastronomy, there’s Lauren Wilson’s The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse. It’s a tongue-in-cheek survival-guide-slash-recipe-book that covers inventive cooking, guerrilla gardening and scavenging tips in a world where there’s no more takeout or regularly re-stocked supermarkets. Also good for any doom-mongerers and people with fallout shelters.
Does anyone still buy DVDs? If you do, gift a hard copy of the following movies or just do it through iTunes or whatever platform you like. There’s nothing like eating Christmas food while watching a film about food, trust us!
Jon Favreau’s Chef is the most obvious and least taxing choice, and one of the better fictional examinations of modern food culture, for all that it jars a little with reality. Noma: My Perfect Storm follows René Redzepi (founder of the two-Michelin-starred, best restaurant in the world, Noma) for 12 months through markets, kitchens and board rooms as he tries to push boundaries and deal with annoyances like norovirus outbreaks. And if you want a movie to put you off the overindulgence of the festive season, Fed Up will do the job (save it for the first of January perhaps). Four obese teens, including 212-pound (15-stone), 12-year-old Maggie, open up about being overweight to their flip cams as director Stephanie Soechtig and journalist Katie Couric try to find out where it all went wrong.
Last of all, we’ll handle the foodie whose kitchen looks like... well, like they’ve been on the good end of a Christmas gift guide or two. Heard of sous vide? It’s a method of cooking ingredients, often in vacuum-sealed pouches, to exact temperatures in a heated water bath – and it’s something that modernist-minded cooks can have great fun with. You can get a good setup by buying a thermal or immersion circulator, which you can attach to most pots and large containers, but the main, cheap iterations, like the Sansaire and Nomiku, tend to be American and hard to come by over here. You could order them to the UK (if there’s still time) or you could try the PolyScience Discovery at a competitive £250. Get it for your significant other and just think of all those perfectly cooked steaks (in reality: cold turkey sandwiches) coming your way.
And that’s it for this year. Happy Christmas!