Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Dull Excuse for a Chef's Knife


Today, I am shamefully stepping out from the shadows to confess my guilt in one of the most shunned of culinary sins: I’ve allowed my knife to become painfully dull. Ever since I left my last job in a professional kitchen, I’ve gotten lazy in keeping my blades as sharp as they should be. To admit this to an audience of fellow cooks and foodies hurts almost as much as trying to slice into the delicate skin of a tomato with a knife you have tormented far beyond the help of anything less than a professional grind.

Flash back to a couple of weeks ago as I watched my Dad slam what was once one of my most decent knives, through a watermelon like a lumberjack throwing an axe into a log: listening to the stark sound of carefully crafted steel defenselessly smacking into a plastic cutting board, it hit me. Everything turned to slow motion: my father wielding the chef’s knife Psycho-style, watermelon juice flying into the walls. Suddenly I was horrified-- not just at the situation, but at myself. Bad chef!

I got a pit in my stomach as I remembered the not-so-far-away past where I had taken such good care of my knives. I made sure they were sharp and felt a sense a pride in keeping my tools in check. I kept them tucked away in my knife bag, covered, and untouchable to anyone but myself. Plus, if I ever got lazy with them, I’d have a chef down my back asking, “What the hell is this?” I still keep most of my knives sharp and healthy, particularly those used for butchering (which I haven’t done much of lately). But due to the sake of convenience, my trusted all-purpose chef’s knife somehow got thrown in the drawer with all the rest of the delinquent cutlery to be used and abused.

A result of weekend dormitory boredom at culinary school
and the sudden urge to be artsy; I call it "cereal killer."
How many times have you heard, “a sharp knife is a safe knife”? It’s true. Not only is a sharp knife safer to use, but it allows for more precision, and simply makes slicing and dicing easier and less strenuous. So why make things harder for myself? I have no idea. I guess using my knives only at home and not in a professional setting caused me to black out of my chef’s mindset for a minute. As with anything, using the right tools in the kitchen can make a world of difference in getting a job done quicker, easier, and safer; but all that goes out the window if they aren’t properly cared for.

To keep your knives up to par, it is ideal to steel them before each use. Once you get lazy with this practice, you will eventually reach a point where there is no turning back. Honing a knife on a steel is great for maintaining its edge for a while but does not actually sharpen the blade. Properly sharpening on a whetstone will bring it back to life. There are also many professional quality home knife sharpeners that can help to get the job done. As an example, WÜSTHOF sells all of the above. When my knives get dull, I always take them to a small grinder shop near me. For about five to ten bucks he makes them sharper than I ever could; just like new. As a matter of fact, that is where I’ll be heading--stat!

16 comments:

Pam Frank said...

Ahhh, yes! The bane of dull knifery. I recently took many of my Henckels knives to a professional shop to have them sharpened. They each came back more dull than when I took them. Big mistake, and now I'm bit afraid to take my precious tools/investment anywhere!!

Marisa said...

Really, Pam? That is horrible. Sorry to hear about that! My guy is always does a nice job. I take mine to this really small hole in the wall type of place. I've read that some of the home sharpeners that they sell can be pretty good. Also, you may want to learn how to sharpen on a whetstone. That way, you don't have to worry about some "professional" ripping you off again!

Caveman Cooking said...

You covered every point I was going to make about keeping your cutlery sharp ... especially the safety factor! But, I would never trust the sharpening of my knives to anyone other than myself. A good stone (which lasts for years and doesn't cost much more than what your local shop charges you for one visit ) and a touch of water is all you need to put a beautiful edge on those puppies. Consider doing it yourself ... you'll save loads of money in the long run, and feel an even bigger sense of pride in your cutting utensils.

Steve said...

When I learned the proper technique to sharpen my knife with a whetstone this was a revelation for me. It's a bit of work to do a good job but I went to all the knives I'd long since ignored and showed them some love. I hone every time I pull out a knife, now if I could just get my wife to do that too they'd stay sharper longer.

Marisa said...

Caveman & Steve, thanks for the tips about the whetstone. I realize that it is probably the best bet for keeping knives sharp. I did learn the proper way, but never practiced it so I guess I am just nervous that I'll end up doing more harm than good. I do think I should start up with it though so I don't end up in this predicament again. Right now, I just need a clean slate to start over. I've been to my knife guy so many times that I trust him. Once I get my edge back, I'll break out the whetstone and start practicing!:)

baking.serendipity said...

My mom's knives were always dull, and it almost made my husband nervous to sharpen them. The difference is so noticeable though between a sharp and a dull tool.

Magic of Spice said...

Great post, and yes a sharp knife is a safe knife...I love your "Cereal Killer" photo :)

Frank said...

So true! Sage advice...

Wheels and Lollipops said...

So very true ! We invested and got a set of Wusthof knives and then I got lazy on upkeeping them, so a few months ago I fixed that problem and now I'm on a chopping honeymoon :) Great cooking starts with great tools

Lazaro Cooks! said...

Wonderful post. Agreed on all counts. I too have a local grinder who really does an amazing job. He keeps me on the razors edge for sure. Thanks for sharing.

Lazaro Cooks! said...

By the way, nice engraving job on your knife. What's your rate? I'll send you my beloved chef's knife.

Be well

Marisa said...

Thanks everyone! I'm glad that you all like the post. As a new blogger, I really appreciate all of the feedback and support to let me know how I'm doing.

Baking Serendipity & Wheels, thanks for sharing your dull knife experiences/lessons with me!

Lazaro, I'm honored that you would trust me with your knife! I wish I could engrave that nicely but someone else did that for me.

Chef Dennis said...

you should see some of the knives we have at work, you would shudder, and shudder more at what they are used for....I try to keep mine hidden so there not abused....sigh....

A SPICY PERSPECTIVE said...

Great post! I just took my knives to be sharpened. I love that first couple months after they are sharpened--they're like brand new!

Koci said...

It's so great to hear that someone else is operating with dull knives. I've become truly terrible about keeping my knives sharp, and my tomatoes and apples are paying the price. I'd never thought of getting them sharpened by a professional, though. That'd make things a lot easier!

Jewell said...

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