Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Nibbles & Bites: The Chef’s Knife

It’s tough to cook much without a good knife, that’s just the way things are. And, in a lot of ways, it’s true: you get what you pay for. But sometimes, just sometimes, you get more than you expected.

When I was in school, along with uniforms and books, part of our fees went towards a rather spiffy knife kit. Included in this kit, obviously, was a very serious chef’s knife. And in this case, very serious translates to pretty big and heavy. Now, it’s true that women are making serious inroads into the professional kitchen arena but many things continue to default to male. Take chef’s jackets, for one: they look great on a man, second only to a double-breasted suit, probably, but on most women they need serious tailoring to be anything close to flattering. Chef’s knives, by and large, are made for men’s hands and I have tiny, girly hands, so using that knife for 2 years, straight, meant plenty of blisters.

Now, sure, I could have gone out and bought a smaller knife, we even had a specialty cookware store in town that carried some real beauties. But, as much as I wanted to stand out to my instructors (and I did, make no mistake) that wasn’t the way I wanted to do it. Call it stubborn, but I stuck it out with that massive knife and I still use it on big jobs at home because it is such a workhorse, even if it still hurts my hand.

Of course, part of that is because of how we were taught to hold the knife. While most people, myself included, would just hold it by the handle, that’s actually NOT the best way to work a blade. Think about it: a knife like this is 2/3 blade and 1/3 handle. Even though the manufacturer does an excellent job of balancing the two parts, it’s still uneven and if you hold the knife by the handle alone you don’t have as much control as when you place your thumb and first joint of your index finger on either sides of the blade and grasp the handle with the remaining 3 fingers. Try it for yourself, with this grip the knife becomes an extension of your arm and weilds greater force.

The idea that bigger, and more expensive, isn’t always better came to a head last year while I was browsing the kitchen-ware section of IKEA. On their wall of tools I saw a cute little utility knife that had the shape of a classic chef’s in a much smaller package. It was all of $7 so I thought I’d give it a try. To my unending surprise, this little mini-chef (as I like to call it) is lightweight, sturdy, comfortable for my little hands and keeps an excellent cutting surface. It’s been my workhorse for a year now and I only wish the nearest IKEA weren’t 4.5 hours away or I’d surely have given more of their knives a test.

About the only downside is the length of the blade when dealing with large veggies, like squash or leeks and the like. The longer blade allows for a good reach and a rocking motion to really power through some produce at top speed. But since this only matters, for me, when I’m prepping a ton of mise en place for a party or holiday dinner, it’s not too big a deal (and it’s not like I got rid of my big knives).

A few more tips from Knife Skills 101

  • A falling knife has no handle.
  • More accidents happen with dull blades than sharp ones.
  • Knife Skills Practical Exam: if you cut yourself, you fail.
Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker

  1. We purchased some steak knives from IKEA a year ago for something insane like $4.00 for 4 knives. They work great and you can put them in the dishwasher.

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