Jan. 25th, 2012

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Two nights ago, on Chinese New Year, actually, I went to a knife skills class that I signed up for months ago, before I knew it was CNY. Not that that would've really changed anything, but still, it was kind of weird that I didn't eat any Chinese food that day. Anyway, I've often wanted to improve my knife skills -- I love watching professional chefs chop and prep items, their motions are so fluid, accurate, and quick.

I have a A LONG way to go. The funny/cool thing was that my knife was the star of the class! The instructor, Mataio, owns his own catering company (in fact, he catered Orangette's Molly Wizenberg's wedding), and while he no longer uses a Global knife as his main knife, he still has great fondness and respect for it because it was the brand of knife he used for YEARS after he got over himself after culinary school and first picked out some big macho knife. He used a G5; I have the Global G4. He kept going on and on about Global, to the point where he had me hold up my knife to show the class, he used it in his demonstrations, he kept talking about how it was perfectly balanced, had the softest steel, great rocking, and on and on. In fact, he even sharpened it during the sharpening demo, so I even got it sharpened by a pro for free. Woots!

Anyway, I want to stop for a moment now to do my usual speech whenever I talk about knives, and encourage anyone who spends even a moderate amount of time in the kitchen to purchase a good one. I prefer Japanese knives like Global because they are light, sharp, and beautiful. Many others prefer German knives (80-90% of the class had those), like Wusthof or Henckels, because they like more of a heft in their hands, and they're also less costly (relatively). But a good knife is WORTH THE MONEY. It may sound strange, but as they say -- a sharp knife is a safe knife. If you're having to saw through something and using a lot of pressure, etc., chances are actually greater that you'll end up cutting yourself. A good knife should go through vegetables like butter. It should be made of ONE long piece of steel from blade to handle. A good knife is not only safer, it will also save you tons of time when doing prep work. You don't have to have expensive knives for your whole collection; one good knife will suffice -- just let it be the knife you use 90% of the time. And really, you only need one knife in the kitchen. There are three other knives that are really nice to have that would round out your collection to the point where you really wouldn't need another knife, but in terms of what's needed the number is: one knife. OK, I'm getting off my soapbox now. If I convince even one person to try a good knife (and yes, good knives are costly) and open them up to the wonders of having a quality knife, I'll be happy.

Back to the class. It was really great to have hands-on instruction, and Mataio was fab. But it was a little too beginner for me, because much of what we learned/discussed are things I know from watching cooking shows and reading cooking materials, etc. What I really need is more practice. Because while my knife was the star of the show, I definitely wasn't. >.> It's kind of embarrassing to have the best knife in the room and not be able to produce the best product. Other people's cuts were much more uniform than mine. I just don't have a good eye for measurement. Thankfully I'm not actually going to culinary school so I won't get graded on my julienne and fine brunois cuts, and certainly it doesn't really matter when I actually cook at home, but still. It'd be nice to be able to get perfect 1/4" cubes when I want them.

We discussed many different kinds of knives, of course, and I think I want to get this knife next, especially for my mom. I think it's the kind of knife she'd find most useful.

Also, this isn't about knife technique, but useful anyway... Keeping one's cutting board in place is very important. It slip sliding all over the place can be dangerous. Jamie Oliver recommends putting a wet dishcloth underneath it, which totally works, but I noticed that our cutting boards in class were on shelf liners! Those grippy ones from Walmart that are so cheap! I thought this was brilliant on Mataio's part. Just cut it to the exact size of your cutting board(s) and viola, grippy surface. Another thing is that there's been some controversy about whether bamboo is a good cutting board surface (never use those Formica-like plastic boards, only use wood). It's been all the rage because people like splashy new and 'rare' things, but I've read -- and Mataio reinforced -- avoid bamboo. It's too hard a surface and will dull your knife more easily, so use a softer wood. I guess some company now is even making a really sturdy cork cutting board, but long-term studies are not yet in on that.

And finally, some knife-care instructions. I want to make sure I cover how to care for your knife in case someone out there actually switches to a quality knife due to my harping about it. :P Store it on a magnetized strip or on its side in a drawer (single layer). Never place it tip-down in a utensil holder. Avoid a knife block, or if you must use one, slide the knife in on its back, not the sharp end. Another option for storage (and travel) is to use a plastic knife guard with magnets on the side holding it in place (I ordered one online after seeing someone else's in the class). We didn't talk about this specifically, but it's well known amongst those who use quality knives and love them -- never, ever put a knife (the ones that are used as utensils are an exception) through the dishwasher. The force of the water pressure will cause it to jiggle over and over again, clinking against other items or even the plastic shelf of the washer, which can dull and maybe even chip it. Just hand wash with soap and hot water, and towel dry -- it's really not much effort. It's always best to have your knife professionally sharpened -- costs about $7-15 -- but if you sharpen your knife at home, use a sharpening rod or stone, and if you have a knife with softer steel (like Global), they should only be sharpened on ceramic or diamond, not traditional metal. Doing this will keep your knife sharp and ready for action!

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