On Knife Skills.

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.

 

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My Kitchen in Malden.

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Where do you live?
Malden, Massachusetts.

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How often do you cook or bake?
It’s funny because I never really used to be into baking; cooking was always much more interesting to me, and frankly, baking always seemed so girly.  That said, I’ve recently taken up baking, though I don’t do it that often.  I definitely cook more, probably four to five times a week, depending on the leftovers situation.  I’ll bake when the mood strikes me, or when I’ve got a craving, which is something like twice a month.  I definitely bake more around the holidays — everyone gets cookies.  I also bake for Keith more than I bake for me.  I’m nice that way.

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What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
I’m easy, man.  It’s my wooden spoon.  I wish I had a few more of them.  I use it to mix just about anything, and I love the way it feels in my hand.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it a bit, I think I would say my chef’s knife instead.  I’ve used some awful knives in my day, the kinds that coerce an onion apart as opposed to chop it, and having a good solid knife makes all the difference.  In fact, if you’ve got one good knife — one really good one — you don’t need any more.

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Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
Having lived in many an apartment without one, I’ve got to say my dishwasher.  You know, I used to buy glasses based solely on whether or not I could fit my hand and a sponge down its mouth?  Now I can purchase any style that catches my eye, and that feels great.  I like glasses.

I also like the area that I call “the in-between” or “the pass-through.”  It connects the kitchen to the dining room, and we have it cabinet-ed out.  The bottom portion functions as a snack pantry of sorts, as well as storage for platters and my massive stand mixer.  Half of the upper cabinetry is devoted to storing Keith’s whisky collection; the other half holds my cooking magazines and cookbooks.

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Come to think of it, this is a tricky question for me to answer; we renovated the kitchen to best suit our needs and our aesthetic (on a budget).  There are so many aspects of this room that I love, like the countertops that look like oxidized metal, the unusual color of our cabinets, the soffits, the ceiling fan, my knife strip…  It would be the equivalent of asking me to pick my favorite dog, if I had lots of dogs.  Or any dogs.  Or a dog.

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What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
I would have to say it was the dinner I made for something like sixteen people last spring; at that point, the largest crowd I had ever cooked for was closer to eight, including Keith and myself, so doubling the amount of diners was a vaguely terrifying Big Deal.  I had invited my parents not only to the meal but also for the weekend; they drove in with the dog from New York a day early to spend some more time with us.  My mother and Keith volunteered to help me chop, sauté, mix, etc.  Whenever I asked him to do something, Keith would shout, “Yes, chef!”  It caused a lot of giggly delays.  Even funnier was when my mother — very polite, proper and petite woman that she is — wasn’t able to open something (what was it?  I don’t remember) and so, said very seriously to the object in her hand, “I think you must be retarded.”

In the end, we served the following:

Hors d’œuvres

  • bocconcini that I had marinated in herbs and olive oil few days prior
  • a selection of cured meats that Keith had picked out at Formaggio Kitchen

Entrées

Sides

Desserts

The leftovers lasted for days.