GUILLOTINE AND GLIDE - Classic French Knife Action

Joined Feb 13, 2008

Knife Skills, Part Whatever

I call the classic, French action used to make many of the classic cuts with a chef’s knife Guillotine and Glide.  But as far as I know (a) no one else does; and (b) there is no real name for it. And while we’re caveating, this technique is useful but it doesn’t work with every knife, nor is it the right way to cut everything.

At some point, I’ll have to make a video.  In the meantime you’re stuck with mere, inadequate, prosaic words.

Here’s How (to begin before getting to Here’s How):
The action starts with the grip.  If you don’t know how to do a “soft pinch,” you should look at that post first.

Put something to cut on your board – something not to long, too high or too wide.  Celery would be fine.  When you start learning you don’t want to cut anything too long or too wide. So “block” your celery into strips about 5" long and half a stalk wide.  (When you get good, you can use very long strips; and if and/or when you’ve really got the claw mastered you can use very short sticks, but for now we roll with medium.)  You’ll want a few dozen strips to have enough for practice.

You’ll be trying to make dice about 3/8" wide.  FWIW, that’s about “medium.” 

After you’ve fabricated the strips, push them to the left side of your board (assuming you’re right handed – if you’re a lefty like me, you’ll just have to reverse everything). 

Use your knife to push 8 or 10 into the center of the board.  Use your left hand to gather them into a loose bundle.  Orient them so they’re perpendicular to your knife.  Gently tap the ends with the side of your knife so all the ends on the right side are even.

Hold the sticks with “claw” technique.  (Make sure your fingers are tucked under, and that your thumb is out of the way, and not pointing towards where the knife will cut.)  Make the bundle two or three sticks high – no more than three.

Orient the sticks so they’re perpendicular to the natural line your knife will take.  If you’re using the approved stance, posture, and a straight wrist, that means your cutting board will be square to the counter, and your bundle will be square to the board.  If you’re not doing all that stuff, just try and get the bundle 90* to whatever your line is without straining.   

Hold the bundle at its left end, unless you can already do “cut and retreat” or are already practiced at using your knuckles as a guide.  We’ll save those techniques for another post.

Here’s How (this time for real):
The tip starts down, but not necessarily on the board. If it's not on the board, the blade comes down in a push. (With something as low as celery that’s as soon as it is on the board, the cutter guillotines the knife, using the arc of the belly to make the edge traverse diagonally through the food. As the flat of the knife comes down on the board, the cutter slides the knife forward.

That’s it. 

A lot of sturm und drang for something very simple if you ask me.  But whose fault is that?  Yours.

OK.  Now that you know how, practice for a couple of months, then leave a comment on how your life has changed for the better.  

Try a Little Perspective:
One of the desirable characteristics of this technique is that it's more or less silent.

Another, is that it’s intuitive with a French profile chef’s knife.  Intuitive after a hundred or so hours of practice, anyway. 

Yet another is that it's not a universal technique – depending on the type of knife and what you’re trying to do.  It’s not good without a chef’s knife (although a santoku might do it); and less good with a German profile than a French. 

You don't get extra points for doing it my way.  And you don't lose points for doing it some other way.  If you're happy, I'm ecstatic.   

It’s very good for cutting sticks (alumette, batonet, julienne, etc.,) and dice (medium, fine, brunoise) but not particularly effective for blocking or planking. Those things work better with more "push cut," and some other things work better just by dragging the tip through, or “popping” the tip the way reality TV cheftestants speed-chop a cucumber. 

Rather obviously, you have to adapt your technique to what you're doing and with you’re using to do it.  Less obviously, you also have to adapt to where you’re doing it.  For instance, if you’re working in a kitchen with a crapulous chef, silence is golden.  Silence is golden anyway.  How can I listen to Scarlatti if you're tap, tap, tapping?  Right, Scarlatti.  I'm sticking with unknown baroque composers as an excuse.

Now you know,

Joined Sep 18, 2008
Never did get "awards" for paying attention in school, however, IIRC, a "guillotine" blade not only had a "beveled edge" but, in a sense, a "beveled shape" so that, as it fell vertically, it "sliced through" the neck  rather than "chopped" as an axe would.

Joined Feb 13, 2008

You wrote:
IIRC, a "guillotine" blade not only had a "beveled edge" but, in a sense, a "beveled shape" so that, as it fell vertically, it "sliced through" the neck  rather than "chopped" as an axe would.
Somehow you hit the nail on the head, but didn't seem to be aware you did.  I must have been very unclear.

The "slicing through" is exactly why I'm using the term guillotine. But it's only a metaphor, don't expect to much from it.  Madame LaFarge won't sit and knit while the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues the aristo chives. 

The edge comes down in an arc controlled by the curve of the belly at the tip, it doesn't go straight down into the food, but enters and cuts through at an angle.  Very much like a guillotine.  But then the glide completes the slicing action.  Just as Dr. Guillotin wished, the carrot feels no pain.

I, on the other hand, am getting a headache.

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Joined Feb 13, 2008

One of these days I'll put together some knife video, but for now don't see any hurry.  There's nothing remarkable about me or the way I use a knife.  YouTube must be full of video with classic technique.

Joined Aug 26, 2010
Youtube, like the rest of the internet is filled with information.  The downside is having the information from a trusted source.  There is nothing stopping me from making a video on how to sharpen knives, but that doesn't mean it'd have any useful content!  So, when you're starting out trying to learn techniques, you need to know who has the right technique. 
Joined Jul 27, 2010

The internet is great, but it can be a horrible horrible place.

I'm sure there are plenty of good knife skills videos on YouTube but the problem is finding them among the heap of crap.
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