So it is that time of year again, time for the annual gastro gift-giving list that I prepare each year for the foodie in your life or home. This year I am taking a slightly different slant to the whole gift-giving brouhaha that is Christmas. It is a local gift-giving expose! You won’t find any pepper spray wackos waiting for the opportune moment to foul you as you stand in line to purchase these gifts. Unfortunately, you probably won’t even find a line.
I love giving gifts almost as much as I enjoy receiving them. Notice I said almost. If you were planning on getting me a little something, please do not let that comment deter you. Actually, gift giving is one of my love languages, and I might say I am one heck of a shopper, not much of a looker. In fact, this exercise in finding ideas for you has cost me a fortune. I read this great “keep it local” piece a few weeks ago online, and it resonated with me so much that I have quoted a few morsels from the piece. I don’t know who wrote it, but they are spot-on in the concept.
Christmas is about caring about US, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And, when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn’t imagine.
As a small-business owner, I know all to well the difficulties of competing in a chain restaurant-superstore world. Now don’t get me wrong. Jobs are jobs, and Lord knows we need local jobs. Local does not mean buying out of the back of someone’s car this holiday season, although farmers market shopping does make my list. What I am saying is when you go into a small restaurant or local boutique and purchase a gift certificate or a dress, you are making it possible for that Mom and Pop restaurateur to breathe a little easier, and you are making it possible for the little boutique owner to live her dream here in our magnificent little community, a community built around customer service, hospitality and tourism. We live here and we need to buy here. So here is my list of great gifts to give the foodie in your life:
· Everyone enjoys a dinner out, even someone who loves to cook. Consider a gift certificate to your favorite local eatery. Doesn’t matter if it is a taco shop or a white tablecloth establishment — if they are buying local and are supporting their local farms, grab a gift certificate or two and give the gift that gives to your intended, the server that will provide them sensational service, the cooks that will be cooking it up and so on and so forth.
· Home Grown Healthiness — CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Walk the farmers market this week and fill a basket with locally grown goodies and drop it off for your culinarian. Better yet, sign a family member up for a monthly CSA from Serendipity Farms. What says “I care” more than wholesome, healthy, locally grown foods every month.
Gastronomes appreciate the time and effort gone into artisan-crafted products like bacon smoked locally, salumi cured and dried locally, jams made with local fruit and canned locally. Serendipity gets a double dippidy here because some of my favorite artisan producers will be selling their locally produced, handcrafted yum yums Dec. 15 at their holiday gift sale. Check their website for more information.
· I don’t know too many foodies that aren’t winos. Sign your foodista up for a local wine club. The grapes are grown here, the juice is squeezed and refined here and the winemaker and their family live here. With more than a few dozen producers here in Monterey County you will be affecting lots of people with a gift of wine this holiday season. I have way too many winemaker friends to recommend any one club to join — which means you get the joy of shopping aka, tasting, in the hunt for the one you want to gift.
· All of us cookerooskies love gadgets and knives and spoons! Yep, that is what I said: the spoon — the ultimate cooks tool. We all have our favorites, and I will tell you about one of my new favorites: Jonathan’s Wild Cherry Spoons. All their spoons are handcrafted in Pennsylvania from beautiful wild cherry wood that is sustainably harvested from well-managed forests. I know that Pennsylvania is not “local,” but you can buy them locally at Coast Galleries or the Phoenix Shop in Big Sur. And They are made in America.
· Gadgets and tools are hard to find. Sur La Table has a great selection of goodies for the stocking-stuffer knickknacks you’re looking for, and many of them are denoted as American made. Remember, local shopping supports the locals that live and work here, too.
· Every cook needs his or her cast iron pans. Again, not manufactured here in California, but you can buy them here.
· Send ’em to school. Local cooking classes are something I know a little about. Go to my website,cheftoddfisher.com, for a full 2012 class schedule and to sign up. Classes are $95 per cutting board, or get the six-pack discount: 6 classes for $525. For a super-duper wow gift for your gastronome and new this year: The Chef Todd Boot Camp, a five-day intensive in THE KITCHEN (dates to be determined). Only 12 cutting boards will be allotted for this unbelievable culinary excursion, from basic knife skills and stocks to a fabulous dinner party that you will prepare for your invited guests.
· And I’m not the only cooking-school guru in town. Stone Creek Kitchens offers not only a calendar of classes, but many of the tools I have mentioned above can be purchased there as well. In fact, on Dec. 21, from 7 to 8:30p.m., men are invited to an evening of private shopping after the store closes to the public, for only $5. Stone Creek Kitchen staff will act as your personal shopper, if desired, to help you select the perfect gift for everyone on your holiday gift list. Then they will gift wrap everything for you too — for free. The five bucks gets you a plate and a glass for a little manly grub and a brew to sustain you while shopping. Reservations not required. Simply show up and bang on the door.
· For the foodie with a woodie: If your foodster has a wood-burning oven or pit, buy them the gift of some locally cut and seasoned white oak, almond or manzanilla for a sophisticated and unique flavor enhancer for their cooking pleasure!
· Monterey Bay Sea Salt is a locally harvested sea salt that has the deep, briny deliciousness provided by only fine sea salts of the world. The grain is large, so it is a great accompaniment with a grinder and some delicious California first-press olive oil.
This year give the gift of genuine concern for others — your neighbors. No longer can you doubt that buying local is helping locally. Yes it is!
Celebrity chef Todd Fisher is a Herald columnist, chef de cuisine at Stick’s at the Inn at Spanish Bay and a brand consultant. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.