Chicagoans Share the Best Gifts They’ve Ever Received

Rick Bayless photo by Galdones Photography. Jeffrey Bouthiette photo by Ian McLaren. Brandon Breaux photo by Nick Castle. Nadine Kenney Johnstone photo by Chris Loomis. Katrina Markoff photo courtesy of Vosges Haut-Chocolat . Maria Pinto photo by Yuya Ohashi. Marie Tachouet photo by Sandy Swanson.

Whether it’s practical or ornamental, budget-breaking, or handmade, there’s nothing better than giving — and getting — the perfect present. We caught up with some of our favorite Chicagoans about the ones they won’t soon forget.

Rick Bayless

Chef and Founder, Frontera Restaurants

best gifts: Rick Bayless

“In the days after Topolobampo won the James Beard Foundation‘s 2017 award for ‘Outstanding Restaurant,’ a huge crate was sent to our office. Inside was a Methuselah of Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut Champagne signed by our friends at Alinea, the previous year’s winners of the same award. For the uninitiated, a Methuselah is a ridiculously huge, six-liter bottle that’s obviously meant to be popped for super-special celebrations. What a gesture.”

Jeffrey Bouthiette

Head of the Music Program, The Second City Training Center Chicago

best gifts: Jeffrey Bouthiette

“It isn’t something heartfelt or sentimental; it’s a pasta pot with the strainer built in, given to me for Christmas by my sister-in-law. I really didn’t understand bliss until I could ditch the colander and make pasta without spilling boiling water everywhere. I’ll take that over a memorable keepsake any day!”

Brandon Breaux

Fine Artist and Designer

best gifts: Brandon Breaux

“My father wasn’t able to be around much when I was young, but when I was 23 years old, he bought me a bike. I rode it everywhere and at all times of day — to my freelance design gigs, to the movies, to bars and events, to Soldier Field and back. It reminded me that although I didn’t get a lot of time with him growing up, he had a huge impact on me — I’m very grateful for that.”

Kristin Clark

Co-Founder of Lakeshore Baby

best gifts: Kristin Clark

“A good friend gifted me a box of Crane & Co. monogrammed notecards many years ago, and I am constantly searching for similar unique cards to fill my desk drawer. Never underestimate the power of a handwritten note.”

Nadine Kenney Johnstone

Author, “Of This Much I’m Sure

best gifts: Nadine Kenney Johnstone

“A video montage made by my ESL students. I was 28 at the time and teaching English as a Second Language at a university. During that time, my husband and I were struggling to have a family. One day, after an IVF egg retrieval procedure, I was rushed into emergency surgery and had to miss three weeks of work to recover. My students must’ve known how lonely I was, and they sent me a ‘get well’ video with songs and stories. I keep it in my safe alongside my wedding DVD — that’s how much it means to me.”

Nick Kokonas

Co-Owner of The Alinea Group

best gifts: Nick Kokonas

“A hand-forged knife from Allen Hemberger. When Allen first dined at Alinea many years ago he swiped a logo-embroidered napkin from the restaurant. He spent the next five years cooking every single recipe in the Alinea book and documenting it in his own book, “The Alinea Project,” and that year he sent me a gift for New Year’s with a note reading: “I wanted to return the napkin…” I opened the box to find a hand-tooled leather knife-roll that he made — and a chef’s knife he forged himself with the napkin embedded in an epoxy handle. Amazing craftsmanship, and an amazing gift.”

Katrina Markoff

Founder and Chocolatier, Vosges Haut-Chocolat

best gifts: Katrina Markoff

“Last holiday I received an Altuzarra handbag from my husband, and inside was a photo of him and my two young sons. Of course, the most intimate part of the gift was the message he wrote and how the handbag was equestrian-inspired — it reminded him of my love of horses and their free spirit, which reminds him of me. I cherish it, and to this day I carry the photo and the note inside of it.”

Maria Pinto

Fashion Designer

best gifts: Maria Pinto

“A great man in my life gave me a sculpture by Thomas Skomski called the ‘Misuse of Meaning.’ It is an oversized dictionary with hundreds of river rocks layered among the pages; from the side, the pages look like a tree trunk and branches, and the rocks like leaves. It gives the impression of a huge tree with long, sweeping branches, and it is truly a treasure.”

Marie Tachouet

Principal Flute, Lyric Opera of Chicago

best gifts: Marie Tachouet

“I will always treasure the coffee table my now-husband made for me as a birthday gift when we were newly dating. Since he’s not a furniture maker by occupation, I was so surprised and impressed by all the details — the hairpin legs, the beautiful stain, and the midcentury modern style. I love having a functional, handmade reminder of our early relationship in our home!”

 

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Nicole Schnitzler

Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer who covers​ ​food, drink, ​travel and ​lifestyle. When she is not planning her next adventure​​, she can be found​ ​commuting between bakeries, yoga classes,​ live music shows, and libraries ​in her hometown of ​​Chicago. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other. Nicole is also the founder of Doors Open Dishes, an initiative committed to keeping the doors open to the group homes and workshops of individuals with special needs by partnering with chefs and restaurants across the city. Follow her on Twitter (@Write_To_Eat) or on Instagram (@WriteToEat).