Thursday, March 17, 2005

Knife Moves

I had read on Apartment Therapy a few months ago that a good chef's knife was the essential tool for the serious home cook. That made sense to me, because I'd been cutting carrots with a steak knife and they would fly all over the room. And there's only so many things you can make by throwing everything into the food processor and setting it on "mulch."

So I went shopping for a knife, but on my reconnaissance missions to Bed Bath & Beyond's cutlery department testing the grip and weight of each specimen, I felt like a renegade member of the Manson Family and I was still clueless about which one to buy. Also, I was getting a lot of conflicting advice on how to safely hold a chef's knife from my friends.

"You're not supposed to pick up the knife with your fingers sticking out. You're supposed to curl your fingers under themselves and then pick up the knife...Oh wait, it's your other hand where you're supposed to curl your fingers." That and a couple of stories that ended "...but it grew back" convinced me that I'd better get some hands-on instruction.

The New School's Culinary Arts Center has a variety of one-day Recreational Cooking classes. I love that term: It makes it sound as if you're going to be lobbing arugula over a net. I signed up for the Chef's Knife Workshop. It met last Saturday at The Inn on 23rd, a townhouse converted to a B&B. When I got there, the owner was conducting a class in the dining room on how to open your own B&B.

My classmates and I, about a dozen young professional women, were ushered into the kitchen where Chef Richard Glavin and two lovely assistants gave us handouts on how to select, hold and sharpen a chef's knife and the difference between a chef's knife and similar knives. We were packed in elbow to elbow with each of us getting a little square of cutting board and an eight-inch knife, but I did not lack for individual attention. While we were practicing chopping, Chef Glavin said, "Now this lady is going to be here all night," and handed me an implement that looked like Excalibur.

But it worked like a dream. And the only problem I had with it is that I was afraid to get my other hand too close to the blade. But if you're holding it correctly and pay attention, you're actually more secure than you would have been if you hadn't held your hand close to the blade.

When we finished slicing, dicing and julienning the various vegetables and fruits that were handed to us, we all sat in the dining room and got to know each other over a bowl of Portuguese Potato Soup, with green salad and fruit salad, washed down with wine and cheese. We bombarded Chef Glavin with culinary questions, such as what All Clad pot to start off with and how long do various foods keep fresh.

"Well, if you keep a head of lettuce for a week, it won't be fresh." Oops, busted.

Also, when it comes to purchasing a professional knife, Bed Bath & Beyond and Macy's Cellar may have good sales, but you want to go to a place where the staff can help you select one that's right for you. Broadway Panhandler in Soho is one place that can do this, and I've just read that they're having a free knife skills workshop on Saturday. Couldn't hurt to have more training. Meanwhile, I'm hanging on to the food processor.

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