Pare, Slice, and Chop

A carpenter may have his hammer and an executive might sign all contracts with her favorite pen. The humble truck driver wears the same hat on every drive and the hippest bartenders all have personalized bottle openers strapped to their forearms. Just like every profession, the cooks behind the double doors between the kitchen and dining room have their tools. They are our comfort objects, the piece of equipment that helps pay the bills, and the one thing we can be in reasonable control of in a career that is built on uncertainty and the ever-changing whim of indecisive customers. What might our truest tools be? Certainly our brains and our hands have priority on the list but I’m talking about our knives. Between them and our mis-en-place there are few things that will throw us into a protective rage when someone messes with them.

All of my knives are wrapped with tape to mark that they are mine. It is also the most adorable kitty print to say, “hands off bitch, this cat bites.”

It’s an odd relationship that I have with my knives. I hold them as my dearest partners in the kitchen with every other tool being expendable. I talk sweet nothings to them when I accidentally drop them on a steel prep table and call them badasses when their sharpness surprises me with a nick on a finger. They never let me down and help me to work as efficiently as I need to be. That being said, even the home kitchen deserves a solid set of blades at its disposal.

The knives you should choose as a home cook should be two things: moderately priced and taken care of properly. Anthony Bourdain recommends Global and my personal gastronomy hero Alton Brown is endorsed by Shun. I’ve used both and they are great mid-priced professional knives. I, however, recommend a basic entry level knife made by Mercer. The knife I use most at work is a simple Mercer Millenia Usuba that I got at a restaurant supply store in New Orleans for $17. It has been cutting vegetables immaculately since I bought it a year ago while the $130 Shun sits in the blade guard untouched. My own proof that money doesn’t buy you happiness!

An example of the fine cuts a $17 blade can get you, with proper technique and practice!

Then there’s knife care. I ritually run my blades along my honing steel every day before I start work to keep their edges in line. I never let them go to dish because I wash them myself and immediately dry them afterwards. This is how home knives should be treated as well. Avoid dishwashers and using the blades against anything harder than wood. I also suggest investing in blade guards and putting your knives in a drawer. I don’t like using knife blocks because they are generally made of wood and can harbor a lot of bacteria. If you take care of your knives they will take care of you!

For a great video on basic knife skills I suggest watching this Shun video with Alton Brown. These are techniques that I use on a daily basis, along with several others not discussed.

Practicing slowly at first is a must! I spent a month working on a straight chop (not shown in the video) and lost a little bit of my knuckles to learning it but now I use it more than any other for its speed and efficiency in fine slices (plus I hate using mandolins). Enjoy your chops and stay hungry, friends!