Building Knife Skills: A Culinary School How-To
One thing you can count on when entering culinary school is that you will be doing a lot of slicing and dicing. While you will learn a variety of skills, from baking delicate pastries to mastering the finest Italian dishes, one skill that will find its way into nearly every recipe will be knife work. Your knife will become an extension of your hand. As the backbone of your culinary career, mastering your knife skills is an essential part of your education.
First, you will need a quality knife set that won't get in your way while you work in the kitchen. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to knives, so be sure to test out a few and see what works for you. Chef's knives come in all sizes, weights and materials. You may notice that your classmates have different knife sets, but that doesn't mean that you have chosen the wrong set; it simply means you chose the set that feels best to you. As long as the knife feels graceful and agile in your hand, you have nothing to worry about.
When looking for a knife set, you don't have to search for the set that includes the most gizmos and gadgets. Look for quality. You don't need a bunch of specialized tools when you have a good knife. Here are some more tips:
Look for either German Steel or Japanese Steel.
German steel knives tends to feel sturdier. While they may score just 56 to 58 on the Rockwell hardness scale for metals, they usually have angles of about 20 degrees per side, making them more substantial. The Japanese knife, on the other hand, is made from a single piece of metal with no other material, and it is more agile. It rates around 60 to 61 on the Rockwell scale and the angles land somewhere around 15 degrees per side. If you prefer power, a German knife may be for you, but you may gravitate toward the Japanese knife if precision and sharpness retention are important to you.
The handle should comfortably fit in the palm of your hand.
It should comfortably fit the unique shape and size of your hand. If you have a smaller hand, you’re going to want to buy a knife with a thinner handle. Conversely, if you have a larger hand, you'll need to purchase a knife with a wider handle. Someone with a larger hand who uses a thin-handled knife will develop pressure points in the palm of his or her hand. This will make a chef's grip more tense, leading to poor fluidity of movement and inaccurate cuts. The key to having good knife skills is a knife you can hold with a relaxed and comfortable grip for an extended period of time.
The balance point of your knife should be located where the blade meets the handle.
Having the weight evenly distributed on your knife will allow you to slice and chop with ease. Rocking the blade back and forth will feel effortless once you find a rhythm. The one nuance with this rule is that the shorter the blade gets, the more handle-heavy the knife should be. This gives you better control over the movement.
Decide if you want a versatile 8-inch chef’s knife or a 10-inch blade can that can cut more volume.
An 8-inch chef’s knife is the most popular among home cooks because it can be used as easily to cut through a watermelon as it can to cut through bone. A 10-incher’s blade can cut more of a particular ingredient but may feel intimidating to some. A longer blade also means a longer lever, which will give you a little bit more cutting force. Other than going by feel, a good rule of thumb is to measure your favorite cutting board on the diagonal and subtract four inches from that length. This will ensure that your blade will easily fit on the board.
Before investing in your knife, see if the salesperson will allow you to take it for a test drive; most reputable salespeople will. Try it out mincing herbs, dicing an onion, slicing a squash or carving a watermelon to see what it can do.
The programs at all Lincoln Culinary Institute in Shelton, CT provide students with their own culinary knife set. Start training today!
- LCI Shelton