Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Knife Skills

It has been brought up to my attention that none of my friends really, really know how to use a knife properly. Now, you wanna know why chef's can do things so much quicker or why Rachael Ray can actually do her meals in 30 minutes? Knife skills. These are the best things to learn for efficiency and speed. When I was in culinary school I never EVER thought that I would be able to dice and chop the way they did on tv. Well, for the first two weeks I walked around with band-aids on all my fingers on the left hand. But slowly I learned. SLOWLY is the key word, don't rush your knife skills. You need to get the technique down first, then comes the speed.
After my 3rd quarter in culinary school I did a 6 month internship at one of the biggest catering companies on the North Shore, in Chicago. There I had no choice but learn how to be quick with my knife. All the guys were dicing and chopping faster than I had ever seen!

On my first day I saw a guy chopping mushrooms super fast, like a machine! I told the sous chef that I wanted to learn how to do that. He threw a 5 pound box of criminis at me and said, "I guarantee you by the end of the day you will be able to chop like that." That was at 8am, by 5pm and the end of my day, I knew how to chop like that. I ran up to my sous chef before I left and I said,
"Hey! How did you know I would be able to do that by the end of the day?"
"Easy," he said, "When you need to get something done, your body and mind will automatically figure out the fastest and most efficient way to do it! Tommorrow, we start on small dicing onions."

That 6 month experience was what put me ahead of everyone else in my class when it came to knife speed. My speed was always there unfortunately, my precision sucked! I had a chef that would take out a ruler and measure my small dice (brunois) and matchsticks (battonets), out of a 10 I usually got a 6, and I was very happy with that! My thought process was that you don't need to have perfect cubes if no one is really looking at them, it's not like my goal was to work at a French 6 star restaurant. I just needed speed and to get my veggies to the right size, not the right shape.

At my culinary internship, I learned several tips to help my knife skills. There are a few rules that one should do by in order to make their knife work for them.

1. Make sure your knife feels like a continuation of your hand. Your knife should feel very comfortable in your hand. If it is too long or too heavy it is not your knife. I am 5 foot 4 and I have realitively long limbs, but still my chef's knife is only 8 inches. It feels light and comfortable in my hands, the way a knife should feel.
2. Your knife does NOT have to be expensive, just comfortable and SHARP! Having a sharp knife is the best thing you can do for yourself. Belive me I have cut myself with a dull knife and a sharp knife, dull cuts hurt much more. A sharp knife will make your cutting fast, precise and easy. * I will say that I am a bit of a knife snob. But that is only because I bought my knives as an investment. They were a gift to myself when I graduated school and after 4 years they are still in perfect condition. I prefer to use Global Knives. They are very light and are made out of one piece instead of 2 (one for the handle and one for the blade). They stay sharp very long because of the special angle on the blade. *
3. GO SLOW. Learn the proper hand positioning and rocking motion of the knife first. Start practicing on onions and potatoes. Then move on to carrots and celery. All these veggies are cheap and always in need in your recipes! After that you can move onto other vegetables. The key is to really use your knife skills whenever possible. The more you use them, the more comfortable you will be with your knife. In the beginning it was very difficult for me to hold my knife right. It felt wrong and very uncomfortable. But over time I got used to it and now it is second nature. Just be patient with yourself. It can take months to get used to it. But be patient and practice often!


Pam said...

What a GREAT post! I just learned quite a bit. I bought a new knife recently, now I'll know how to use it.

Mila said...

Thanks Pam, I will also be doing some food demos on how to get small dice efficiently.