Chef in a box
Your friends have enough novelty aprons and egg timers to last a lifetime. This year, give them the gift of experience.
Give baked, get baked
True to this in-home cooking school’s name, most of the course offerings at Give Me Some Sugar focus on baking and desserts. Alessandra Sweeney (a.k.a. “Chef Alekka”) offers classes such as “It’s All About the Crust!” for the pie novice and “Donut Delights,” obviously not for dieters. The best part of this gift is learning how to bake in your own home, but it doesn’t hurt that Chef Alekka also does all the cleanup. 312-546-4788, givesugar.com. $75 per person for groups of four–eight.
He’ll shake it all night long
Anyone who’s tried to pull off a proper cocktail party knows that it requires constant shaking, mixing, squeezing and pouring—all of which leaves little time to spend with the guests. That’s where the gift of Todd Appel comes in. Giving friends this “cocktail caterer” for the evening ensures that they’ll be able to relax at their own party. Not only that, but Appel (who bartends at Crimson Lounge) will create custom cocktails for the event, which means your friends will drink better than they ever have before. (And if you’re lucky enough to be invited, so will you.) 773-426-1378. $300 gets you four hours for a party of 40 (booze not included).
Personal wine performance
Christine Blumer of Wine Diva Enterprises is the former director of education at Sam’s Wines & Spirits and the president of her own consulting company. But gift her to one of your friends, and she turns into a personal wine assistant. Her services are flexible and up for customization, but we like the idea of having her serve as the sommelier for a dinner party—that is, looking at the menu and choosing the wines, then pouring them throughout dinner. But, really, she’ll do anything wine related; although she may go by the name Wine Diva, she’s actually anything but. 312-343-3482, winedivaent.com. Prices vary.
The cheesiest gift possible
When you give the gift of a member of Pastoral’s staff—fromager Daniel Sirko or wine director Jan Henrichsen, for example—you’re really giving the gift of stress relief. The Pastoral staff will provide an in-home cheese tasting, wine tasting and chocolate tasting (or any combination of the three); perhaps even better, it’ll do all the shopping for the event and bring the loot. All your friend has to do is invite some people over, open the door and start eating. 53 E Lake St (312-658-1250). Typically $40–$50 per person.
(Almost) homemade cookies
The idea of handing friends and family a cool vintage tin packed with freshly baked cookies is tempting, but the time investment and damage you’d do to your kitchen is a persuasive deterrent. So bake them in Chopping Block’s kitchen instead. In the “Bake ’n’ Take” half-day class, you’ll not only learn how to make six classic holiday cookies (cranberry-walnut rugalach, chocolate-orange biscotti, brandy snaps, Mexican wedding cookies, buckeyes and windowpanes), but you’ll leave with a dozen of each. Visit thechoppingblock.net for the class schedule.
Dinner and a show
It’s pretty common for a group of friends to go out to eat, but a bit less so for the gang to get front-row seats at a demo cooking class and eat every dish being taught. At gourmet grocer August, owner George Djurovic holds customized 7pm BYOB dinner classes for groups of six, teaching everything from tapas to pastas and seafood. The man knows his stuff: A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris, Djurovic has cooked in New York’s Le Bernardin and Union Pacific. 1500 W Division St (773-252-9560). $50–$60 per person.
Beer’s to you
For beer geeks, there’s probably no better gift than a hands-on DIY class where newbie brewers can walk away with two cases of their own concoction. In the first of a two-part session at Beverage Art Brewer and Winemaker Supply, you’ll decide which type of beer your gang wants to make, learn what makes a good beer and tinker with a recipe to make it your own. A couple of weeks later, after the brew ferments, return to bottle and label. Visit bev-art.com or call 773-233-7579 to schedule a class. Cost is $85 for two people making one batch, plus $35–$45 for ingredients.