Last night Melissa and I took a knife skills class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts; Keith had given me a gift certificate for a class years ago, along with an eight-inch Global chef’s knife, and it took me this long to sign up. Neither Melissa nor I had taken a class like this before — I can’t speak for Melissa, but I didn’t know what to expect, aside from a bit of chopping.
The class started out with an anatomy lesson — the anatomy of a chef’s knife, I should specify — which I thought was really interesting. Some of it is pretty obvious (i.e. the cutting edge, the handle, etc.) but I didn’t know about things like tangs and bolsters; while I knew that forged blades are far more superior (and far more expensive) than stamped, I didn’t know why; and I didn’t know the difference in the degrees of sharpness between European- and Japanese-made knives.
(For the record, the tang is the extension of the blade that goes into the handle. The tang of a full-tang blade runs from knife tip to the end of the handle; some knives have hidden tangs while others are visibly sandwiched between the two halves of the handle. The tang of a half-tang blade runs only through a portion of the handle. A full-tang is the better of the two for two reasons: balance, and strength.
The bolster is where the of the blade and the handle of a knife meet, and are found on forged knives. Bolsters, like tangs, help with balance; unlike tangs, they prevent fingers from slipping.
Forged blades are made out of a single piece of metal that has been heated to something like 1400° and then has been hammered into shape. Stamped blades are made cookie-cutter style, and are literally stamped out of a piece of metal. The spine of a forged knife gradually tapers into its sharp cutting edge, while the cutting edge of a stamped knife is pretty much just cut into the blade. Because of this, the cutting edge of a stamped knife isn’t capable of maintaining its sharpness as much as a forged knife.
Lastly, a European-made knife usually has a twenty-two degree angle of sharpness while a Japanese-made knife usually has something more like an eleven degree angle of sharpness. An angle of sharpness is exactly what it sounds like: the angle at which the blade narrows into its cutting edge.)
Then we discussed the exact specifics of precision cuts, the measurements of which I’ve never been able to keep straight in my head because I’m simply dreadful when numbers show up in my life. Afterwards we headed into the kitchen section of the classroom and spent a good amount of time cutting up a bunch of different vegetables and making garlic paste. I’m pleased to say that I was already quite competent with the basics, though I was terrible at the cheating version of the tourné. (In my defense, there are numbers involved.) We also learned a fancy-but-useless way to cut mushrooms so that they look vaguely artichoke-esque — I wish I had a photo, but the next time I cook a mushroom dish I will document it so that you all can be super-impressed with my mad
skills skillz. The same for the incredibly easy and awesomely efficient way I learned how to cut peppers. Seriously.
Regardless of your cooking abilities, I think checking out a knife skills class is a good idea. I thought it was really fascinating, and fun, and you might even learn something, novel as that sounds.
These photos were taken with Melissa’s and my cell phones, hence the fuzziness.