Knife skills

Joined Oct 13, 2001
My question for everybody here is how good are your knife skills and do you think that with the ability to buy so much pre-prepped items like produce , chicken , and steaks that many of the new culinary workers will never learn or get to the level that us older chefs have learned ( Im only 43 ) with there knife skills ? I started in this biz at 13 as a pearl diver and I can remember when you ordered chicken well you got whole chickens . You could not buy sliced onions or diced onions either . Steaks you could always buy pre-cut from the local butcher but if you wanted a good food cost you normaly cut them yourself . My dietitian and administrator walked through the kitchen the other day while I was prepping onions and peppers for Fajitas and they were astounded by my ability to cut an onion so quickly . I gave them a few quick demos and showed them some basic knife skills but it realy made me think about this art of using a knife . To me one of the best things a chef can do is to learn great knife skills so you can get through the job at hand quickly . So , how are your skills ? Doug.........
Joined Oct 13, 2001
Cape chef , I was turned down by BENIHANA 8 years ago and I Know it wasnt the knife skills . My hair is just to blonde and for some to long and I wont dye it black .
Remember , denial is not just a river in Egypt !
Clear skies , Doug...........................


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
I can do most things faster than a machine, better than the mandoline... able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. :D

Joined Jul 23, 2002
I remember tourneeing countless pounds of potatoes and other veggies so long ago. I also remember ( with a smile) swearing that when I was Chef some day, I would never submit one of my cooks to such silly practices. Now I'm sometimes disusted at many cooks lack of knife skills. They have dull knives, and toss them around like an over worked biscuit made with bread flour!
The knife, next to the hand, is the most important tool in our trade. My skills are fine, thank you. I hand sharpen my extentions every 3-4 days. I use them daily regardless of where or what I'm cooking. I love my knives and they love me!

Joined May 26, 2001
What a great question!!

I'll be honest: my knife skills suck. :( Really. If I'm accurate, I'm slow, and if I'm fast, I'm inaccurate. Always like that, although now that I'm NOT working the line -- only cooking at home or occasionally on a consulting job -- I'm improving with practice, without pressure.

I wonder if maybe there's so much precut stuff used because the SUPERVISORS AND "CHEFS" lack knife skills, and can't teach them. And because they don't know how to cook. Two justifications used are that it takes too long to cut large quantities (leading to high labor costs), and that in the long run it's cheaper to pay the premium for precut because there's no waste. The first would be wrong if everyone had decent knife skills; the second is just a cop-out, as far as I'm concerned, by people who don't know how to do anything except follow a recipe provided by the central office.

Oh, maybe I'd better quit before I REALLY get started on this! :mad:
Joined Nov 20, 2000
A few too many years ago I worked at a 4 star hotel in DC in their flagship restaurant. I was dicing or tourneeing something, I don't recall but the Chef D'Cuisine stood next to me and took a knife and started working with me, ostensibly to show me up. I did 2+ to his one. He stayed with me for about 3 minutes and walked away. What a feeling of satisfaction that was! Especially considering what an --- the guy was!
As long as people come out of culinary training I don't think there will be a problem. Any "good" establishment will still do things by hand. The precuts are for bulk and places where "trained" personell are not so important.
I was trained hard and well on knife skills and though I may have slowed a step (out of practice) I can still outdo or match anyone! (Except perhaps Brad! ):)
Joined Dec 4, 2001
I recon I'm pretty good for an amateur. I'm not super fast but I do OK. I trake good care of my knives and they take care of me.
I almost bought a mandolin one time (one of those $30 Japanese models) but I decided not to because I was afraid of loosing what skills I had aquired.

Joined Feb 17, 2003
I'm 25 and have been doing this for quite a while now. I went to school, and feel that my skills are at least average. I think that learning how to do things like breaking down a chicken are good, but I also welcome the ability to bring it in. I work with several people that are roughly my age that did not go to school, and it amazes me that they can't break down a chicken.

just my 0.02
Joined May 15, 2003
A few years ago I worked in a Hotel In the Canadian Rockies as an assistant Butcher.....

10-12 hrs of doing salmon,tuns,monk hand ......(one long shower with lemons after though...LOL)

I can hold my own:chef:


Joined Apr 4, 2000
I wish I could take a knife skills class. I do have a mandoline and I do use it if I have more than five vegetables to slice.


Joined Jun 15, 2003
Many cooks I see coming out of school are using silly gadgets like cuisnearts, george forman grills and other silly gadgets. There is no way that any machine can cut items such as sliced mushrooms better than a chef with good knife skills, especially the time it takes putting the machine together, taking apart, cleaning it, putting it away?? man I would of had a box sliced by then.
When it comes to the care of knives, well! I am a contracted chef at a wedding center, when I started there they had knives that were all dull, broken handles and broken tips. I could not believe there were using such bad tools. Thanks to Nella I got a whole new set of 14 knives, I am now trying to train the staff on proper knife ettiquitte. This is becomming a daunting task, they show little respect for tools, I am at the point where I am going to cut them off from using them and putting them under lock and key. I am all for training people but this affects me when I go to use my knives and find them unclean, burred and chipped from opening the plastic container of mayo! I almost totally snapped! Another time I caught them using the knife tip to punch a hole in the olive oil can.
A Chef is only as good as his knives, it is a statement of caring and respect to see a Chef with a proper set of knives and who knows how to use them, it is artistic and kata like to watch a skilled chef with his knives..

Joined May 9, 2003
I agree that with the advent of pre-prepped produce it would seem that some will never have the need for the knife skills that many of us take pride in. I don't believe it will be too much of an issue though.

We cut our own steaks, chickens, veal, seafood comes in whole whenever possible, no pre cut vegetables of any kind. We use as few convienience products as possible ( No, we don't have ketchup in my restaurant:D ) and do as much as is feasible from scratch.

I've had 3 cooks leave for "Greener pastures" all to return within a month or so and ask to return. They DON"T WANT to work in kitchens (even for substantially more money) that use pre-prepped, pre-cut, pre-fabricated or canned, boxed products.

One cook came back after 2 weeks and 1 day! Worked 1 day and put his notice in to come back. He told me..." Chef...what they do to food over there...It just hurts my feelings."

There will always be those in it for money and whatever makes life easier...but there will always be those that love it and want to do it and become better for it too.

I won't say one is better than the other, some places HAVE to use that stuff and they probably make a lot more $$ than my place, but I couldn't do it for any money...It hurts my feelings too:chef:


Joined Jun 15, 2003
ChefKell, you hit the nail right on the head, I would be hounerd to work side by side with you.

Joined Aug 11, 2003
i have been working professionally as a cook for only about a year , but i have been cooking my whole life(almost 40 years) when i started working for my cousin and her husband last year . i guess i was average for someone that just cooked at home , but not anywhere near what is needed for working in a resturaunt . i have improved drasticaly in the last year , and am now a little more than half as fast as my boss is , but faster than the other 2 cooks we have . we get very little of our supplies precut so i am getting faster and more accurate every day . i have built up a pretty good set of calouses(sp) now , so no more blistered fingers , and i havent tried to take off a finger in weeks . i would have to rate myself as fair with a knife at this point , but always working to improve .

one of the best and fastest i have seen was when i worked as a delivery driver for a chinese resturant . there was a gentleman there who worked with a very large cleaver who probably could have slice a whole cow into wafer steaks in 10 minutes . he was a very talented chef , and was teaching me how to properly cook in a wok till i had to head for better paying work .
Joined Feb 22, 2002
At work (Ruby Tuesday, it's a drag, but that's another story) sometimes I do veggie prep which involves slicing mushrooms and other veggies with the slicer...but you have to do the bell peppers and onions by hand, which i am grateful for. A lot of things come pre-sliced though like cans of beets and such. Saves time but we're also losing an art, I think.
Joined Jan 5, 2001
I feel as if my skills are as good as most. I spent 5 years cutting chickens for my wholesale fresh chicken route, so I can beat anybody I've met in chicken cuts and boning. I work more in an office now than I ever have, so I have to intentionally get into the kitchen and use my knives. I bring my knives from home in the knife roll, no one else touches them, and I take them back home wiht me in the roll. I encourage all my cooks to do the same. Get your own knives and take care of them yourself. We do have "house knives", but they are usually the cast offs from cooks when they upgrade. You have to have good knives and know how th use them.

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