Digital gifts for foodies of all shapes and sizes

If you give a man a fish, as they say…

 

Allen Weiner

IRL

Published Dec 17, 2014   Updated May 29, 2021, 11:22 pm CDT

Aunt Sylvia has trouble baking cookies without burning them to a crisp. Your mom yearns to learn the fine art of sous-vide, and your cousin wants to do more than microwave ramen as he heads off to college.

Relax, there are digitally inspired holiday gifts for every level of cook in your family. For the casual chef, you might consider some gift subscriptions to the leading streaming sites to observe how the pros cook. If there’s a budding celebrity chef in your midst, you can up the ante with some step-by-step courses from the leading names in the world of food media. But don’t think you have to shell out some heavy coin to be the giver of great digital cooking instruction, as there are options to suit any budget. With a little creativity, you can even tickle someone’s holiday food fancy for next to nothing.

On a budget

You have reached your spending limit for the season. But wait, there’s one more person you’d like to include in your seasonal well-wishes, and he or she just happens to enjoy cooking. Or, for that matter, watching other people cook. For this lot, consider creating a special ecard that includes a few personally curated food shows you know would make someone’s holiday a bit more filling.

Start with a simple ecard, and there are plenty to choose from. I am a fan of Card Karma, which allows you to customize your often-snarky greeting with an image or video. After you have scripted a touching verse (a food or cooking pun is always in style), you can then upload a great cooking video to add that special touch.

You can select a clip from Cooking With Dog, which sounds kooky but delivers some well-crafted authentic Japanese cuisine. The chef’s name is never mentioned in the series, but the real star is a poodle named Francis who can do some amazing things without opposable thumbs.

For something more traditional, you can add a clip from former Top Chef contestant and Top Chef All Stars winner Richard Blais’ show Burger Lab, which showcases the Culinary Institute of America grad’s manic-yet-sumptuous creations. The perfect episode to pass along to someone who enjoys a glorious slab of protein is the one in which Blais builds a massive meat mountain topped with a sizzling helping of lobster.

Cooking lessons on demand

With an increase in popularity, streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus (the premium subscription service that goes beyond basic free Hulu) now offer gift cards which can turn into a nice stocking stuffer or more depending on your generosity. As a giver, your options range from one month to one year ($7.99 to $95.88 for Hulu Plus). And while the beneficiary of your digital present can watch his or her favorite TV series or movie, why not jot down a note that accompanies the gift card recommending some of the on-demand cooking series that are included in the service?

From the Hulu Plus catalog of cooking fare, you have an array of programs from the Cooking Channel, including Kelsey’s Essentials (for basic tips), Brunch at Bobby’s (Bobby Flay’s weekend plates), and Foodography (with comic Mo Rocca). For a step up in technique, there’s Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home with the iconic duo of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin combining their talents for some compelling cuisine.

Netflix is heavy on Food Network programming, with shows from Alton Brown (Good Eats), Rachael Ray (Week in a Day Collection), and Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman). While not instructional in nature, the TED Talk featuring Jamie Oliver is a fascinating discussion on teaching young people about food. And for something caustically entertaining and full of food knowledge, Netflix has a heavy dose of Anthony Bourdain with the No Reservations collection.

For the vegans on your list, the film Forks Over Knives Presents: The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue is a must. The 52-minute show is hosted by the man behind the Engine 2 Diet, Rip Esselstyn, who provides tips and recipes for a plant-strong diet. Yes, there is plenty of kale.

For the gastronome

We all have someone in our lives who fancies himself a wiz in the kitchen. These whisk-wielding wonders may have picked up some training watching mom, dad, or a grandparent whip up that secret family spaghetti sauce. Honing those early skills through trial and error provides good training, but a bit of professional refinement would add a finishing touch.

For your favorite skilled casual cook or friend who has the urge to become the next Duff Goldman or Charlie Trotter, the gift of online cooking instruction can pay big dividends, including a reward of a luscious post-grad feast. Online cooking instruction—like other on-demand digital classes—offers the flexibility of learning without a fixed schedule, giving learners the ability to consume content at their own pace. And while the food world is not quite at the stage where you can receive a prestigious culinary degree from the CIA or Johnson and Wales and go work the line at the local four-star bistro, that time might be closer than we think.

“I can imagine a world where students take online courses, make videos of themselves doing each skill or recipe, and then come into some sort of center for the instructors to taste the final product,” Tanya Steel, president of Cooking Up Big Dreams told the Daily Dot. “MOOCs [massive open online courses] will only expand, and it makes sense for us to figure out a way for people who don’t have the opportunity to attend a cooking school to learn advanced techniques, recipes, flavor profiles, from the comfort of their own kitchen, and earn a degree from it.”

Cooking Up Big Dreams has worked with such leading food brands as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Epicurious, and Gourmet Live to use multiple media forms to teach all ages to learn how to cook and feel confident in the kitchen. “Knowing the basics will provide a lifetime of delicious, affordable, and healthy food,” says Steel. “It also make you more likely to have people in your home, to connect and communicate, to show love for others through flavors.”

America’s Test Kitchen, a name recognizable to fans of the long-running PBS show, also offers an array of online cooking lessons. Taking advantage of 15 years of video content and skilled chefs who are featured on the show—not to mention an association with Cooks Illustrated—the popular brand has been dishing our online classes for two years.

“There are two options,” America’s Test Kitchen Editorial Director Jack Bishop told the Daily Dot. “You can sign up for the school and receive entire catalog and take as many courses in any time frame. From there, the classes—which include reviews and quizzes—can be self-directed or you can opt-in and get an instructor to review your work and provide guidance in your coursework.” The classes without an instructor are $19.95 a month, or you can pay $39.95 a month with a personalized chef/mentor. Both classes are available as gift certificates.

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If you are wondering who might be the ideal candidate for the gift of an America’s Test Kitchen video series, Bishop points to two likely audiences. The first, he said are those who have minimal cooking skills but because of a lifestyle change (getting married, having a baby, health concerns) feel the need to learn the basics such as knife skills and food safety. Secondary targets are those amateur chefs who are skilled but have a limited repertoire and may want to take a class and tackle a technique missing from their arsenal. Taking an online class might be a way to determine whether a skilled layman might wants to pursue a new area that would require advanced professional training.

If you take Bishop’s advice, the gift of an online cooking class is far better than giving a cookbook to someone just finding their way in the kitchen. “Rather than buying a cookbook, he noted, “you are buying an experience. Cookbooks are for people who already know how to cook.”

Photos via ChefSteps/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) and RCB/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III

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*First Published: Dec 17, 2014, 10:30 am CST