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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Love At First Knife

Most good cooks know there are two must-haves for the kitchen: a good knife and a good saute pan; all the rest is fluff. When I make this statement in my cooking classes, I often see questioning looks on the faces of my students, most likely because a wide array of the latest and greatest culinary gadgets lies before me on the counter. And though I do use (and love) many of these tools, not a single one of them would be grabbed up in case of kitchen fire - I would be too busy seeking out my favorite knife and saute pan before running out the door.
And though I can truly appreciate a good saute pan, nothing separates me from my chef's knife. This "love of my life" has come to the rescue on many an onion, carrot and garlic clove, and these days I really need that. I am finding myself spending more and more time cooking at home, trying to stay ahead of the appetites of my two youngest sons, ages 12 and 14. It seems they eat constantly! Since I feel it's my duty as Chef-Mom to keep them well fed, I keep my chef's knife constantly chopping and slicing on their behalf, trying my best to keep their bellies full.
My family and friends all know that if you invite me into your kitchen to help you cook, I WILL be examining your inventory of kitchen tools, including a check of the knives in your utensil drawer or butcher block. I don't do this to belittle my friends and family like one may think - I just want to know how hard I'm going to have to work while I'm there. A dull knife is likely to ensure me of a trip to the E.R. for a few stitches and I want to know my odds going in. I also like to anticipate how much Ben Gay and ibuprofen I'm going to need the next day for my sore shoulders and arms – another treat a dull knife doles out.
Recently, I visited my sister-in-law and noticed she was slicing vegetables with a knife that looked like it had weathered countless tree branches and lots of baling twine. (This is why my knives are not accessible to my sons around our farm or I would have the same problem.) A good inch of the tip of her knife was broken off and I could visibly see how dull it was by the pressure she was exerting as she pressed through each vegetable onto her cutting board. (And yes, I was surprised she was using a cutting board – I didn't realize she even had one. But thankfully she wasn't cutting onions or I literally would have been crying in my beer from 20 feet!) Keep in mind this is not unusual in her kitchen as she spends ZERO on culinary tools, always assuring me that would be a total waste of her hard-earned money. Though she never says it, I know she feels the same about my wardrobe, so that makes us even: I wouldn't be caught dead with her knife in my hand and she wouldn't be caught dead wearing my clothes!
Using good, sharp chef's knife is comparable to riding in a Cadillac. Once you float over the road in a Cadillac, you wouldn't possibly consider riding in that sluggish little Volkswagen any longer. And so it goes with a dull knife. There's nothing worse, at least in this chef's opinion, so I'll leave you with this bit of corny culinary humor: BE SHARP and buy a good knife – you'll find there's no going back.
Now You're Cookin',
Chef Alli