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Get to the Point with the Right Knives

In a professional kitchen, you spend hours every day with chef’s knives, serrators and other slicing and cutting knives. After that much time, you can’t help but form some kind of bond with them. Choose knives properly to ensure a harmonious relationship. Here’s how.

This Time, It’s Personal

The most important factor is compatibility. “Consider how the handle feels and how it fits your hand,” says Charles Ramseyer, culinary director, seafood research and development, Tai Foong USA in Seattle, WA. “A handle that’s too small can make your hand tired; too large and you won’t have control.” Test drive several to find a good fit for your skill and application. Try dicing, slicing and julienning a few things to get a sense of how the blade works and how the grip feels in your hand.

A Few Good Knives

A lot of cooks are given knife sets as gifts upon graduation from culinary school and then build on that as their skills grow or a specialty like butchering emerges. But if you’re buying knives yourself, a set can be expensive. Lacking a generous patron or recent lottery win, chances are you’ll have to limit your purchases. Hugh Acheson, chef/owner of 5&10 and The National in Athens, GA, and Empire State South in Atlanta, GA, recommends three:

  • Paring Knife: “A really good small paring knife can butcher a whole pig if you want,” he says.
  • Chef’s Knife: Acheson suggests a Japanese knife with an American-style double bevel blade. (Asian cutlery often has only a single bevel, making it awkward for American cooks.)
  • Serrated Knife: “When they lose their edge, they’re cheap enough you can throw them out and buy new ones,” he notes.

You also may need other blades particular to your menu or ingredients. “As we prepare mostly fish, a boning knife is important — and then you always need an oyster knife,” Ramseyer says.

After labor, food costs eat the largest portion of your operational budget. “A good knife helps with precision and accuracy, critical elements of portion control,” says Ramseyer. “It’s almost impossible to get a uniform dice or properly trimmed piece of protein with a bad knife.” Try butchering a whole fish or breaking down a side of beef with a dull, pitted knife — you lose product.

Knife Safety & Maintenance

It’s important to keep knives safely stored and easily accessed. Some chefs like knife rolls for securely storing and transporting knives and then keeping them at hand throughout a shift. A knife bar or magnetic bar is another option for easy, accessible storage.

Acheson has a different method: “I use a clear plastic food container with a lid, something long and shallow like a hotel pan, and line it with a towel. You spend $400 on a beautiful carbon steel knife — you want to make sure it doesn’t get scratched or stained.”

At a minimum, Ramseyer suggests sharpening knives daily or per use on a stone or with a steel. “Knives should be sharpened every other month professionally, unless you have invested in proper sharpening equipment.”

Acheson spends an hour each week taking care of his knives. “I feel it’s important to do it yourself. If I were a landscaper, I’d expect to know how to sharpen my mower blades and fix the engine,” he says.

Love Story

Ultimately, knife selection is a very personal choice. That’s why most professional cooks have their own knife sets. Remember these tips when shopping for yours:

  • Find a strong one that seems made for you
  • Make sure it can handle tough situations with ease
  • Store and maintain it lovingly

Slicing, dicing, chopping, carving and cutting are the basis of your long relationship with your knives. And just like finding the perfect partner, you’ll need to try out a few good prospects to find the perfect one.

Jamie Peha has more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant, beverage and culinary industry and has worn many hats throughout her successful career. She is the energetic personality behind TableTalk Northwest, a radio program and online platform featuring articles, video interviews and a series of tasty consumer events. Jamie lives just north of Seattle with her husband and two beagles. Find Jamie on Google+.

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