Your Thoughts on The Most Important Knife Skills

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by boar_d_laze, Aug 16, 2010.

  1. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    I think the subject of "Knife Skills" should be broken up into three general categories.  They are:  
    1. Knife handling -- including grip, posture, choice of knife, and so on;
    2. Sharpening -- including method and equipment; and,
    3. Board management -- including the board itself.
    Furthermore, they are interdependent to the point that a limitation to one is a limitation to all -- whether the object is pure productivity or making cooking more fun and rewarding. 

    Your thoughts?

    BDL 
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010
  2. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    IMHO, an excellent foundation, most everything else fits under one of the three listed topics though there might be some consideration given to specific "food related skills", i.e. vegetable prep, butchering, fish prep, etc.
     
  3. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Pete,

    On. The. Nose.  You're right. 

    I'd mentally jammed all of those under "knife handling," and should have... oh, I don't know... actually written it.

    On the other hand, what's wrong with your mind reading skills?  Clearly, it's all your fault. 

    My broader thinking is that when we give advice we tend to overemphasize knife handling -- especially the processses of using a chef's to fabricate sticks and dice, but all the other specialty knife handling tricks and techniques as well -- over everything else. 

    Perhaps part of it happens because that's usually the way the question is asked; but if we're going to explain maybe we need to mention the other aspects as and if they come to bear. 

    One of the things that got me started on this was reading the "knife reviews" erroneously posted in the Announcements thread.  It seems that a great many people haven't experienced an actually sharp knife enough to appreciate how much easier it makes prepping -- and indeed, how it changes the nature of the the food itself.

    Another was a sub thread in this thread about knife skills -- where the pinch grip was suggested but without any explanation that the knife tip, and the user's wrist, forearm, and elbow must be on the same line -- as though if each aspect of knife skills (knife handling in this example) was a thing unto itself, rather than part of an integrated whole. 

    Come to think of it, you might have been the one who brought some greater context to the thread in terms of posture and so forth. 

    Someone suggested putting one foot forward (French Fries, IIRC) but didn't explain that the purpose was to square the line of the knife so as to be perpindicular to the line of the run of the counter, which would allow the board to be parallel to the same line, the food to be parallel to the board, and that all of that square, parallel stuff would make it easier to control the angle of the cut while managing the board itself. 

    Oh heck.  You know what I mean.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2010
  4. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Good idea to create 3 general categories relating to knife skills. I also like to think that the use of the knife to push food around(edge trailing behind spine or using the spine itself) a nd also the second hand to manage the food that is being cut is important, organizational and such. What about the use of the secondary, food-holding hand for some cutting tasks? Yep, I also think that's part of knife/cutting skills.

    I believe sharpening/maintenance of the knife edge is integral to good knife skills. And as Pete said, knowledge and familiarity with whatever corpse is being fabricated must be a contributing factor to good knife skills, too. I'm not big on "board management", whatever the heck that means. I have a small kitchen and have no choice where it goes (beginning culinary school next week). I like to keep my cutting boards well oiled, not drying out from the soap scrub clean up.
    Sounds more like OCD than board management.
     
     
  5. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    Teaching (explaining) "knife skills" is somewhat analogues to teaching "social dancing", until one grasps the "fundamentals", it is frustrating to discuss "applications".

    Your three topics (paraphrased) knife handling, knife care, and board handling are the "fundamentals" that allow one to understand the production of food product.

    TBS, sometimes the "application" assists in the understanding of "fundamentals", besides, there is some degree of "instant gratification" that seems to be more and more essential to those, "less seasoned". /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif
     
  6. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    I'm "taking a little liberty here", but "board management" deals with far more than physical placement of the board, IMHO.

    "Board management" (and I'll definitely defer to BDL), IMHO includes, but is not limited to:
    • Board selection
    • Board placement (non-slip, relationship to worksurface, relationship to worker, etc.
    • Identification and utilization of zones, i.e. raw product, processing, and processed.
    • Cleaning and sanitation
    • Care and maintenance
    Far from being OCD, IMHO!
     
  7. petalsandcoco

    petalsandcoco

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    Chef BDL,

    I would say knowing which knife to use for the appropriate job would help.

    Knowing your knife, the parts of it : tip, bolster, edge, heel, spine, tang....

    Small tips: always cut away, never towards yourself, keep your eye on the blade, keep your fingers curled in.

    Always use a cutting board and not metal or marble surfaces which can damage your blade.

    Never put your knife in a sink of water....etc

    I really enjoy your thread.
     
  8. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    This is getting interesting. 

    Some good stuff from Chefs Petals and Pete.  I always learn a lot from you guys.

    Alex, I'm learning from you too, but let me address the OCD thing.  Zoning the board the way Pete describes (and nearly all pros with good skills use), makes the mise flow.  Staying square to the board, allows you to zone it without knocking half your work on the floor or cutting it twice. Once you actually get the hang of it, using grip, posture, and lining up the board work so you don't waste time or hurt yourself by fighting the knife and your own body, it all makes sense.

    Paranthetically, or maybe not so paranthetically, most cooking schools don't teach good knife skills.  Or at least most of the school taught cooks I've met didn't learn them there if they learned them at all.  Perhaps more importantly, the chefs (as opposed to cooks) and caterers I know agree. 

    Regarding fabricating individual proteins in their respective best ways:   I'm repeating myself, but yes many of the techniques are knife skills.  More specifically, I consider choosing which knife to do which thing in which way to be a part of "knife handling."  I thought that was implicit in the way I organized the schema, then expressed in my response to Pete's first post.  But apparently not.

    However, is it fair to say that butchering itself is entirely a knife skill?  Isn't knowing how an animal or primal is put together so you can take it apart and portion it (presumably with a knife) a bit beyond the scope of knife skills -- even if it's closely related?

    One of the objects of this exercise is to try and find a way to relate things like why it's better to sharpen the knife you use to break fish to a different level of polish than the knife you use to portion fish, to why a French profile chef is more agile than a German profile so they make sense as related rather than completely distinct things.

    Please keep the ideas coming,

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010
  9. giraffic

    giraffic

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    I think cutting straight is. I don't know if it is exactly a knife skill but it is a difficult one to master. After going to culinary school, working in restaurants and cooking for the fam this is STILL something a have not mastered. I admire anyone who can cut straight and keep all their pieces uniform!
     
  10. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Giraffic, go back and reread the comments regarding posture and body position. That's most of the secret.
     
  11. chefedb

    chefedb

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    I believe one important skill is NOT cutting yourself, and allowing no DISTRACTIONS.  In meat and fish cutting, knowing the inner parts and skeletal parts of animal or fish helps.
     
  12. amazingrace

    amazingrace

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    The most important knife skill for me, is one that has taken years to perfect.  That is, *keeping my knives away from the desctuctive force at work in my kitchen*...mainly HubbyDearest.  To this end,  I have two sets of knives.  One set was very cheap (I paid under $30 for 15 pieces including the block).   I keep them readily available, within reach for whatever hacking he might wish to do.  And these more times than not, wind up in the dishwasher.  The other set, while not very high qualilty either (but adequate for my needs), is kept in a less convenient place for my own use. 

    Before  this system was developed,  I would catch him sneaking my knives back into the kitchen.  Then..."oh no,  it was that way before I used it to pry the paint can open"...or some such other abuse. 

    But, he's a good guy,  a real keeper.  So I've simply worked out ways around his less desirable traits.  These are only knives, after all.  They can be replaced.  He cannot.  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/thumb.gif
     
  13. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Grace,

    You'd fit right in on one of the knife forums. 

    BDL
     
  14. amazingrace

    amazingrace

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    Thanks...I think  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lookaround.gif
     
     
  15. Guest

    Guest Guest

    bored_de_haze:

    "Some good stuff from Chefs Petals and Pete.  I always learn a lot from you guys."

    Oh, so not from me, huh? ;)

    bored_de_haze:

    "Alex, I'm learning from you too, but let me address the OCD thing.  Zoning the board the way Pete describes (and nearly all pros with good skills use), makes the mise flow.  Staying square to the board, allows you to zone it without knocking half your work on the floor or cutting it twice. Once you actually get the hang of it, using grip, posture, and lining up the board work so you don't waste time or hurt yourself by fighting the knife and your own body, it all makes sense."

    My name is Axel. Yes, it's a real name. Although I wasn't specifically named after my Swedish ancestor of the same name he did exist. It's also ancient Germanic and ancient Hebrew. Consider this:  the name Axel existed in these languages before the modern word for the "car part". If you think about how much just English has changed over the last thousand years it makes sense.

    I agree that zoning is important, otherwise it's easy to get lost. I have a small kitchen work space so I tackle one large component of the dish, put it in a bowl or tupperware container and move on to the next. I can see the virtue of zone management and selecting the right board, just like with knives.

    bored_de_haze:

    "Regarding fabricating individual proteins in their respective best ways:   I'm repeating myself, but yes many of the techniques are knife skills."

    A wise man (the OP) once wrote:

    "Furthermore, they are interdependent to the point that a limitation to one is a limitation to all -- whether the object is pure productivity or making cooking more fun and rewarding."

    "More specifically, I consider choosing which knife to do which thing in which way to be a part of "knife handling."  I thought that was implicit in the way I organized the schema, then expressed in my response to Pete's first post.  But apparently not."

    "However, is it fair to say that butchering itself is entirely a knife skill?  Isn't knowing how an animal or primal is put together so you can take it apart and portion it (presumably with a knife) a bit beyond the scope of knife skills -- even if it's closely related?"

    Yes, I totally agree. The same is "what is your ability level for [such and such] fruit or vegetable?" What is your fabrication competence with [such and such] animal? Anatomical familiarity is important.

    BDL:

    "However, is it fair to say that butchering itself is entirely a knife skill?  Isn't knowing how an animal or primal is put together so you can take it apart and portion it (presumably with a knife) a bit beyond the scope of knife skills -- even if it's closely related?"

    Closely related, each requires the other. Your OP covered that succinctly.

    BDL:

    "One of the objects of this exercise is to try and find a way to relate things like why it's better to sharpen the knife you use to break fish to a different level of polish than the knife you use to portion fish, to why a French profile chef is more agile than a German profile so they make sense as related rather than completely distinct things."

    I'm not experienced with fabrication of fish. I try to understand why the Japanese traditional knives exist and their need for a more refined edge. I very rarely even need to fillet a fish, last time was months ago (cans, pre-cut frozen, etc.) and before that was well over a year. So I shared a headless, gutted thawed salmon with someone and took out my Rada 6 inch flexible fillet knife. I believe I hadn't even honed it from its factory edge, but I'd probably prefer to use such a blade only taken to whatever grit level my India stone is, because going up to the extra-fine DMT diamond tablet makes it difficult (i.e. unsafe) to cut through the skins of tomatoes. The fillet knife is used with a slicing motion, the micro-serrations are what makes it work. That's technique and honing being closely inter-related, beyond proper knife selection. Part of the "knife handling" is the creation and maintenance of the edge, part of knife handling is the right cutting board and organizing that cutting space, part of knife handling is knowing the right way to handle that knife at a difficult/delicate part of a corpse. It's all knife handling.

    If you want, boar, I've posted of of two introductory threads in the student sub-forum, there you will see my honing equipment and how far I've taken it. I know the trend (not a fad, most likely a genuine cutlery movement) is to go for higher end Japanese knives, and I kind of step back and think how many people don't even know how to hone their own knives and think the best thing for them is to keep their soft Chicagos and build a solid base on those. Personally, I love my VG1-core Calphalon Katana line honesuki. I hone that little five and a half inch traditional Japanese blade up to the DMT extra-fine smoothness and make quick and impressive work of a big turkey. I've gone through more than a few chickens without sharpening it. I've surprised myself more than once by a single, quick stroke through a turkey's hip, almost detaching the leg with one cut.
     
  16. chefross

    chefross

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    IMHO the Chef's knife fits him/her as if it were an extension of their hand.

    I find this to be very true when working with some one else' knife.

    I stand there cleaning 400 PSMO's with my boning knife and don't even think about it. Sigh!!!
     
  17. durangojo

    durangojo

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    oh goody....knife skills 101 !!...apparently i have enough bad knife habits that well, as bad habits go, are just bad,bad habits... maybe from laziness or lack of knowledge or being hurried , or not paying attention enough,or all of the above...specifically, most probably stance and the whole relationship of shoulder,arm, wrist...i'm thinking maybe this will be like breaking bad skiing habits.. be fun to fix....kinda like therapy...kinda......thanks for the thread bdl..this will be good, informative and funny...you mean i have to stop whacking off champagne corks with my chefs knife after this?!

    joey

    what's up with some cooks, mostly the 'youngbucks' and this newfangled stance they have?...facing the prep table, they start to spread their legs out to the side...kinda like doing the splits....say it helps their backs....i say their backs hurt because of the stance...and it looks friggin ridiculous all splayed out like that...especially when there's more than one monkey doing it! they must think its sexy looking, i just think its stupid....
     
  18. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    BDL,

    I'm going to take you at your word, and assume that one of your principal interests here is the issue of classification, i.e. how most effectively to break down the totality of kitchen knife skills.

    To my mind, your breakdown is logical but problematic. Whom does it assist? The three classes are not, one might say, the same size --- "knife handling" is enormously larger and more variable than the others. Sharpening is mildly complex, but some clever guy once said that in the end it's just rubbing a piece of steel on a rock. Board management is overwhelmingly a matter of having a few solid principles, adhering to them scrupulously, and working under sufficient pressure (of speed, precision, whatever), at which point the principles become second-nature. To lump together everything else as though it were somehow equivalent strikes me as peculiar.

    Now on the up side, your breakdown is clean, simple, and draws attention to two dimensions of the problem that are all too commonly ignored, i.e. sharpening and board management.

    So this leads me to a basic question: What's the point of the classification? Whom is it supposed to aid? In what way should it be helpful? That sounds like three questions, but really it's all one.

    Your classification, from where I sit, hides a latent argument, and tries to strengthen that argument's force by allying it to the common-sensical logic of the system. The argument is simply that sharpening and board management, things too many people ignore or consider trivial, are fundamental parts of knife usage, and woe betide those who don't accept this. The common-sense structure of the system you've composed reinforces this: it says that knife skills rest on three foundations, separated in effect by where they stand in relation to the knife physically --- in the cut, before cutting (on the stone), after cutting (and you could re-divide in several other ways to get the same common-sensical result).

    So far, so good. But if your aim is a classification that does something else, something other (and more) than insist on the importance of sharpening and board management, this system isn't going to work very well.

    So what do you want it to do? For whom? Why?
     
  19. chefboy2160

    chefboy2160

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    I would switch #2 to # 1. After you know how to maintain a knife the other aspects should start to fall in to place with much more ease. You should not learn how to handle a dull knife or else you will develop bad habits.

    My impression of the culinary graduate students I have employed through the years is dismal at best. Most I have encountered feel that the brand of knife they have purchased is on a level to there culinary skills and level of chefdom.

    Board management is an optimal skill for all working chefs which should be a major part in all school training IMO. The reason we can do what others can not is due to the fact that we can consistently produce a large volume of hand prepared cuts quickly and multi task into other areas of our kitchen production.

    A good example of board management is breaking down 50# of onions medium or fine. Set up and flow are important so a pro chef will take a half hour on a slow cruise while an unskilled worker after band aides will take an hour and have lousy cuts. The flow and position of food on the board come much more naturally to the sharp knife than the dull knife user.

    With western knives steeling is a fine art when production levels are high.

    For owner operators these skills can be the break point IMO...............
     
  20. gypsy2727

    gypsy2727

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    I used to carry alot of band-aids in my pocket when I was teaching knife skills!/img/vbsmilies/smilies/eek.gif