Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cutting Up on Halloween

While others were putting the final touches on their Halloween costumes, I was trying desperately to master Knife Skills 101 at Hill’s Kitchen.  I thought I knew how to cut up just about anything with my little Henkel paring knife.  Little did I know that a paring knife is used for occasional peeling, and that’s about it.

After a crash course in First Aid, should anyone cut a finger instead of a carrot, we were each handed what seemed like a humongous knife, one of 3 different models.  We learned the cutting motion of the knife.  We learned how to hold the food to be cut with cat fingers, guiding the knife with the lowest knuckle on our middle finger.  We were handed a piece of celery and told to mimic what had looked so easy in the demonstration.

We then moved on to potatoes and were introduced to some fancy names for French cuts:

batonnet (1/4")
alumette (1/8")
julienne (1/16")

We practiced achieving these on our potatoes, not nearly with the ease or speed that they had been demonstrated.  Then we turned our various size sticks into diced pieces – little cubes, or supposedly cubes that is.

By this time the knife was starting to feel more like an extension of my hand. It was at that point that we got to switch knives and I fell in love with the above Mac knife.  I didn’t dare ask how much it cost.

We moved on to carrots, definitely more challenging to cut than potatoes.  I started to fear for my fingers when I forgot to turn them into cat claws.  But I did produce some finely diced carrots that would have passed muster with most chefs, albeit at a much slower production rate.

The final lesson was how to cut an onion.  It turns out I had already been doing most of the pieces of this correctly.  The one thing I learned was to slice the onion in half (root to top) before attempting to peel it.  It was incredibly easier to peel that way.  We were old pros at chopping by the time we turned out minced onion and wiped the tears from our eyes.

A quick lesson in honing and sharpening knives completed the class.  I learned that the electric sharpener we have been using for years has probably ruined all my knives forever.  Instead they should be hand sharpened by someone who knows what he is doing once a year and honed with a long rod every time they are used.  They should never be allowed to slosh around in a drawer the way my knives do. 

I have a lot of work ahead just to get ready to practice what I learned today in Knife Skills, but I can guarantee the result will be more precise cutting and much improved speed.  I really thought I could have passed this course going in, but quickly learned I was by no means the best in the class.  What a humbling experience. 

Fortunately the dog food class I am teaching on December 5 does not involve hand chopping anything, so if I’m not up to chef speed by then, no one will ever need to know.


Blogger lacochran said...

It's a matter of practice. Don't go faster than you're ready to go. Better to do quality cutting than win the speed prize.

I find it's a strange position to keep your hand in and takes getting used to (I haven't really.)

6:49 AM  
Blogger karen said...

Most fascinating, Barbara! I always admire the way those skilled chefs seem to chop things so effortlessy! I can't get anywhere near it, and would love to learn someday. Just been catching up on past posts, too. Congrats to the amazing Zelda :)

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to take a knife skills class! Since I rely on my hands so much for my living, I'm a bit skittish around knives, although I've finally gotten the point that small knives are generally more dangerous than larger ones for most daily tasks.

Bet your improved skills will come in handy with all the cooking you do!

Did they have tissues on hand for the onions part of the class? :-)


11:17 AM  
Blogger Merle Sneed said...

Potato is the greatest among vegetables. I'll take any kind, anyway I can get them.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Kevin W. said...

There is nothing like a high-quality sharp knife. I bought a huge set of Wusthof knives while visiting Luxembourg and absolutely love using them.

9:54 AM  
Blogger bulletholes said...

Hey Barbara, you know how you get the Onion smell off your hands?
Peel some Shrimp!

11:00 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I love cutting! There's definitely something to be said for both knife skills and finding a rhythm.

8:54 PM  

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