knives, knives, knives … part one

An interview with  Gretchen Young, Chef

This week we are going to begin to delve into knives and as Chef Gretchen says, “If you’re going to cook, you need good knives since scissors and ripping by hand are two methods that do not work in every food prep situation.”  As with any tool, it is a given that all are the not the same in terms of quality or function.  There are reasons to buy the very best and different knives do different tasks.

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In my conversation with Chef Gretchen, she stressed quality matters more than quantity.  Her feeling is that you begin your knife drawer with 3 knives and build from there.  Those 3 knives should be of the highest quality you can afford and “be based on how you cook. If your repertoire is limited to burgers, pastas and the occasional stir-fry, why have every knife known to man? Keep it simple!”

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Here are the selection of knives that Chef Gretchen recommends;
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Shun Kaji Chef’s Knife

A good quality chef’s knife will cost in the range of $75 to $300.  A chef’s knife comes in 8″ or 10″ blade length, choose depending on your size, and is for general all-purpose knife work.  This Shun Kaji Chef’s knife comes in a 6″, 8″ and 10″ blade.

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Shun Kaji Paring Knife, 4 1/2″

A good paring knife is $35 to $80.  Which you use “for the details, like coring apples, cutting limes, etc.”

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Shun Kaji Bread Knife, 9″

A good serrated bread knife is $60 to $150.  A serrated knife is used to slice through breads and other baked goods, and can also be used for tomatoes.
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Chef Gretchen had a few other salient points about knives, buying them, choosing them and why …

First, she stresses that you need to buy your own knives, as she said “Even if you move mom’s well-worn couch to your new apartment, it’s best to leave her old knives at home.”

Second,  you choose a knife because of how it works for you and how it feels.  To that end, she remarked “Similar to car shopping, before you plunk down any money, take the knife on a test drive — have the salesperson in the store take the knife out of the packaging (or use a floor model) and feel the knife in your hand. The handle should fit. It should feel balanced and not weigh your arm down.”

Thirdly, if you have a girlfriend and she cooks when she is at your home,  Chef Gretchen says “I always suggest that couples each maintain their own chef’s knife.”  This is so you can cook together and because the size and weight of the knife is related to the height of the person using it and the size of their hands.  “So if you are a tall guy with big hands, an 8″ chef’s knife will be like a toothpick in your hand, it is better to get a 10″ or longer bladed knife.  Alternatively, if your significant other is smaller than you, she’ll have a hard time maneuvering the knife (no kidding!). So in addition to giving a her a set of keys, she will also need her own knife.”

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As for which manufacturer to buy, there is the question of Japanese or Western.  Chef Gretchen has the following thoughts.  “Japanese knives, such as Shun, Global or Kyoce, are single ground; meaning, they’re sharpened only on one side, at approximately 22 degrees, and are designed for people who are right handed (they can often be special-ordered for left handed users).   The German, or Western, knives are double-beveled, sharpened at a 45 degree angle on both sides.”

If you are left handed you may prefer a Western knife, such as Lamson Sharp, Cutco, Wustof and Henckel.  “These knives are made primarily in the German tradition of knife making. As these knives are double-beveled, they are therefore ambidextrous.”

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Here is the real deal, when I spoke with my friend Chef Mitchell London, owner of Burgers & Cupcakes and Mitchell London Foods, about Japanese knives, and the Shun specifically, he spoke longingly, fondly of his now lost Shun Chef’s knife (someone else in his kitchen loved it so much that they ran off with it).  Chef Mitchell talked about the feel, the weight and the knife’s dexterity.  He said “it was a dream to work with”.  And when I was wondering around the knife department with Chef Gretchen, she too was clearly enamored of the Shun and while she liked other knives and thought they could do the job, you could see in her eyes how much she loved the Shun knives.  My next knives will be Shun, thank goodness I am right handed.

There is much more to say, as Chef Gretchen remarked to me, “I could talk about knives for days”.  To be continued …

Please be sure to share your thoughts about the blogpost and any ideas you have for future posts.

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Gretchen Young has a culinary career that stretches over 10 years, satisfying high profile individuals, restaurants, small businesses and non-profit groups through a catering business, cake design studio and as a private chef. She teaches cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle and Whole Foods Bowery Culinary Education Center. During the Fragrance Foundation’s 2006 Fragrance Week, Chef Gretchen partnered with Takasago Perfumerie and Bacardi to create a multi-sensory experience of food, cocktails and scent.  She earned an MBA from the University of Michigan and trained at the Institute of Culinary Education.

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dale b. cohen

new york city

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One Response to “knives, knives, knives … part one”

  1. D Cooper Says:

    DC:
    Had I known you were into playing with knives, I might have have rethought our first date. 🙂

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