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The Best Experience Gifts for Food Lovers Who Miss Going Out

From online cooking classes to virtual wine consultations 

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A table in front of a fireplace laden with food and drinks, including a tea pot, fruit plate, and bread basket
There are still plenty of experiential gifts to give to this year.

I don’t have to tell you that you’ll be spending more time at home than ever this holiday season. Experts have urged gatherings this year to be more mellow and solitary, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to enjoy each other’s company virtually (and I’m not talking about those now-dreaded Zoom cocktail hours that, needless to say, we’re all pretty burnt out on). If you’re hoping to give the gift of an experience this year to a loved one or yourself rather than a physical object, these cooking classes, tutorials, and consultations will certainly help mix up the at-home routine that’s become so endemic to these strange, socially distanced times.

Whether you’re looking for a food class that the whole family or friend group can join in on or a way to help someone finally learn how to cook (an empowering skill, especially these days), here are 10 ways to have fun and feel like you’re “going out” while staying safe inside. One thing is for sure, giving a loved one the chance to feel a little less lonely — while also helping with cooking fatigue or general cabin fever — is invaluable right now.

For the person who misses their grandmother’s cooking

While you might not be able to have your own family’s cooking IRL this year, the League of Kitchens offers virtual dinner parties in which surrogate grandmas from around the world teach the secrets of their home cooking, right out of their own homes. The instructors feel relatable, rather than stuffy cooking instructors teaching out of manicured test kitchens, making the classes a good gift even for the person who’s intimidated by cooking shows. You can sign up to learn how to make Uzbek butternut squash sambusas, Persian tahdig, or Greek meatballs, among other delicacies. Each interactive experience comes with a packet of the instructor’s family recipes as well as a recording of the class — in case you were zoning out while drooling over all the aromatics during the livestream.

For the person who loves “funky natural wines,” but might not know what that actually means

Eater’s own Wine Club can be a way to find community through a shared love of natural wine, with monthly virtual tastings (club membership starts at $70 a month). For those looking for a more personalized learning experience, Eater Young Gun Kae Whalen has launched a wine tutoring service (prices start at $50). Raquel Makler, a partner in the forthcoming Auxilio Space — a new New York City-based culinary center addressing racial disparity in food — is offering casual, one-on-one wine shopping consultations and educational resources; get in touch via their Instagram DMs to set up a virtual appointment and inquire about sliding scale pricing.

Somerville, Massachusetts’s wine bar Rebel Rebel also launched an online wine school with classes as little as $10, retaining some of the magic of visiting their spot without having to travel there. And roving pop-up wine party Thirsty Thirsty has figured out a digital way to gather with its own wine club that includes medicinal recipes and “resources to balance your connection to body and earth” (starting at $100).

For the person with an enviable mug collection

While in “normal times,” a pottery class would be a great gift for someone who loves cozying up with their mug of tea, the pandemic has made in-person clay-building — at least temporarily — largely a thing of the past. Those willing to get their hands a little dirty will love making their own ceramic mugs at home with this easy kit. The “Original Crockd Kit” comes with enough clay to make a pair of mugs as well as clay breakers and carving tools to fulfill all your gift recipient’s aesthetic preferences. (If they want to try their hand at it without the hassle of getting pieces fired in a local kiln, there’s also an air-dry clay version available.) They’ll be sipping in no time.

For the person with a penchant for chef crushes

Your know-it-all “cheffy” pal — the one who stays up-to-date on the new restaurant openings in their city and has all of this season’s hottest cookbooks — would still be impressed by Kitchen Rodeo. The new organization allows attendees to experience live cooking classes with some of the most important names in food right now: Hawa Hassan, Naomi Pomeroy, Nik Sharma, and Eater Young Gun Lucas Sin, among others. Plus, each event gives 100 percent of the proceeds to a charity of the host’s choosing, such as No Kid Hungry, the Okra Project, City Harvest, and more.

For the person who wants to be the next M.F.K. Fisher

Though there are plenty of non-linear paths to begin writing about food, sometimes it takes participating in a course to really get the juices flowing and have the confidence to pitch your story. In this six-week intensive, learn from food writer Devra Ferst, a former Eater editor, about how to write recipe headnotes, honing the angle of a story, and more industry intel. Classes are held online only.

For the person going a little stir-crazy

There are wild foods to be found no matter where you live; those needing a little bit of socially distanced fresh air might be especially eager to find them. Columbus, Ohio TikTok sensation Alexis Nikole Nelson (aka @BlackForager) recommends purchasing books such as Backyard Foraging to learn more about what’s edible in your own area. But if you’re looking to give something a bit more unconventional, those who pay for the top tier of Nelson’s Patreon will not only help aid in her projects but also have access to live Q&As and an invitation to her private Discord group chat for a more intimate education on foraging.

For the person with kids who are obsessed with watching MasterChef Junior

The Dynamite Shop is a culinary school led by Dana Bowen and Sara Kate Gillingham, two big names in food media who went off on their own to launch a way to get kids more engaged in mealtime. During the pandemic they pivoted in-person classes to an online after-school program and weekend workshops, with lessons that run the gamut on how to make pizza, holiday cookies, or tonight’s supper. The online-only program, dubbed Dynamite Dinner Club, also offers custom experiences for students and other one-off classes with community-focused, social justice tie-ins. (Disclosure: The author of this piece has worked at the Dynamite Shop in the past.)

For the person knows their way around a tarot deck... but not the kitchen

We all have that one friend or family member who is obsessed with tarot card readings. For that person, a company called Tadka Tarot has figured out the perfect gift: a set of 56 cards designed to get them comfortable mixing and matching spices, vegetables, aromatics, and herbs. Each card features an ingredient in Indian cooking along with how it’s typically used, what it pairs well with, recipes, and more to teach instinctive Indian cooking.

For the person looking for a new hobby

Throughout the pandemic, Contraband Ferments has been hosting online workshops on how to execute all different types of fermentations. Upcoming courses include lessons on how to make tempeh, miso, or even reuse fruit scraps to make vinegar.

For the person who hates meal prep

Meal prep expert Jane Morgan of Jane Cooks For You has launched personalized virtual cooking classes tailored to each individual’s needs and palate. Whether the person you have in mind is looking to sharpen their knife skills or simply learn about ways to beef up their pantry, her custom, open-ended course structure would be useful to anyone in a work-from-home lunch rut looking for a little inspiration to maximize meal time.

Emma Orlow is a writer for Eater, Grub Street, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Bon Appétit (among others), where she covers the intersection of the food and design worlds.