let me set the scene for you:
It’s my day off…10:ish am and I can smell delicious coffee brewing. One of my all-time favorite smells.
I actually find my slippers, (which is a feat) and walk into the kitchen to see my partner “dicing” a sweet potato on a paper towel with a paring knife. (Cue high pitched screeching of tires skidding to stop from hitting the car in front of them)
I CAN’T TURN IT OFF.
I’m a professional chef. We have a very “professional” home kitchen, gratefully and precisely sourced and stocked with every tool you can imagine. Why the hell isn’t she using the big beautiful Boos block cutting board that is a permanent fixture on our island? Better yet, a paring knife? to dice? a big sweet potato? I can’t. I don’t get it. Something like this from the eyes of a chef is as jolting as a car accident on the side of the road. I can’t not fixate on it. I catch myself, and try to be cool because soon the question comes… “what am I doing wrong now?” (and that, my friends is a story for another day…turning off chef mode.)
Truth is, this is a pretty “normal” thing for people I bet/I’ve heard. Just like most people will never experience how good their body is capable of feeling with the right fuel…most also don’t experience how easy, effortless and enjoyable cooking can be with the correct tools for the job.
First lesson, first day of culinary school: A cutting board is for cutting not for storage. How many times have you cut an ingredient and moved it to the corner of the board, only to have to be aware not to avoid “that pile” while you tackle the next? Then, you end up inadvertently holding it at some weird awkward angle because you don’t have enough room! Don’t tell me it’s not true. I’ve done it myself, and I see it every day as a restaurant chef. Get a big cutting board. As you cut things, move them off into smaller bowls, a cookie sheet, whatever you choose. Just get them off your board so you have the proper room to cut the next item. It’s a very simple thing to do and really makes a huge difference. Trust me.
Speaking of cutting..on a board..Notice that it’s called a cutting board, not a gnawing board? What is up with the dull knives people? Seriously? You are attempting to cut with something that has NEVER been sharpened? Ever? You’re asking for an accident. My crew would tell you that this is one of my major pet peeves. If I pick up one of my Chef de Cuisine’s knives on a busy Saturday night to cut a beautifully crisped chicken thigh and I can’t get through the skin, there’s a look. I don’t have to say a word.
Your knife matters. The level of sharpness first, then the style you chose comes in at a very close second. This is what I mean.
You need three knives in your arsenal.
a sharp paring knife
A good paring knife should be comfortable and light in your hand and used for small items. Peeling an apple, deveining shrimp, trimming the eye from a potato, slicing the top from a strawberry are all good tasks for our mini friend
a sharp serrated knife
this knife is much more than a bread knife. Yes, it will slice through the crunchy crust of a hard baguette, but also the thin skin of the summer’s most delicately ripe heirloom tomato, both with the same beautiful ease. Buy one that is reasonably sized in relationship to your hand, not something ridiculously long and awkward. Think of it as a multipurpose knife. You will use it much more often than you think
a sharp chef’s knife
Properly weighted in your hand, not too heavy, not too light are must have checkmarks as you search for your favorite chef knife. For me, this knife feels like an extension of my hand. I always tell my crew that if something unfortunate ever happened I would replace my hands with a chef’s knife and a pair of tongs. I don’t think that would be my partners choice, but I could go along with my life pretty damn happy that way. You are using this guy to cut chicken breasts, carrots for soup, chopped cilantro for guac, or a perfect piece of pie. It’s your go to and it needs to be sharp.
Most kitchen cutting accidents I’ve seen have been caused by a dull knife or incorrect tool selection. I think that’s ridiculous. Slow down and take a minute to think about the task first. You wouldn’t trim your lawn with scissors, would you? Choose the correct tool for the job and make certain that tool is at its best. Keep your knives sharp, dry and stored properly. Don’t spend money on elaborate blocks of knives you’ll never use. The three above will serve you well, just like your roomy cutting board.
Looking for suggestions for knives you can use in your home kitchen? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to make recommendations based on your budget.