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Alton's knife skills

I like Alton Brown, despite his liberal use of "ah's" in his monologues, but today I saw him teaching people to chop by moving the food toward the knife (I always move the knife). How do YOU do it?

Then he pulverized a poor garlic clove with a cube of marble! Ghastly scene - I made my child look away. I hate it when he overcomplicates things, especially with a single-function tool.

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  1. I haven't really noticed his knife skills, I have noticed his frequnt use of 'Ah's". I always though that if a contestant had done that on Food Network Star, it would have been pointed out as a flaw. He loves that word.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bookwormchef

      I love Alton. I think he's fantastic. I love how he explains why these processes work they way that they do. I've never noticed anything strange about his chopping skills. It seems to me that however you feel comfortable holding a knife is how you should do it.

    2. Strange about the single-f(x) tool -- He usually talks about avoiding them. '
      I move the knife, but am not a trained cook.

      Have you noticed Jamie Oliver's knife skills? Shazam! He is fast.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gridder

        He's fast but his cuts aren't very uniform.

      2. Depends on what you're cutting. Some items have more friction than others. Usually people can't move the food because they're trying to cut too much of it at once. IMO, the important point is to use your knuckle as a guide, whether moving the knife or the food.

        1. maybe off-topic, but i hate it when nigella mangles veggies with that demi-lune. learn to cut, already!

          9 Replies
          1. re: alkapal

            If a demi-lune is that weir semi-circle shaped thing the yes! I totally agree with you. It looks even more complicated than cutting and it looks all messy and uneven and bruised.

            1. re: alkapal

              I saw her use a tiny dinky knife yesterday to cut a scallion, low and behold she mangled it. Then she picked up a silly half moon rocking thing, that looked awkwardly small and clumsy. She looked embarrassed after she used it. I wish she would of been more Julia Child, had a good laugh at it and tossed the silly thing in the garbage.

              I really do like her show, but I was sort of scared for her.

              1. re: chef chicklet

                yep, it was the same show. she also wasted half of the white parts of the scallions by chopping them off carelessly. waste not, want not, nigella!

                i don't get her apparent ignorance on cutting?!?!

                1. re: alkapal

                  I was taken back as well... I love her recipes, maybe she is just a sloppy cook and then again it was "express meals". She isn't particularly fussy, I guess I can forgive her...and hopefully she wrapped the rest of the onions up for another dish..

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Its a mezzaluna .... VERY effective once you learn to use it correctly. And with BOTH hands away from the blade, extremely safe. No, its not a perfect chop, but it gets the job done with herbs, etc.

                    1. re: Cheflambo

                      i'm aware that it is a mezzaluna, but one doesn't use it for practically everything, like nigella. yes, it is fine for herbs. what else can it be used for -- without a mangling? mincing meat, maybe?

                      1. re: alkapal

                        my mom always used a mezz to chop walnuts and other nuts for baking-- she had a heavy old iron one that fit in a hand-hollowed wood bowl-- kind of a dull blade. it was the only thing she used it for.

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          that makes a lot of sense, to keep the nuts from skittering away! how large was the bowl?

                          1. re: alkapal

                            she had a small one not much wider than the mezz, that was made to fit it-- she had larger wood bowls she could have used it in, but i don't think she ever did, come to think of it! she always just kept the mezz and bowl set-up on the counter, very homey. growing up, i didn't realize *everyone* didn't have a mezz just for walnuts, and was kind of bemused when they came back into vogue, for herbs, because we always chopped those on a board. i do think they're great for chopping nuts though! :)

              2. I was taught; knuckles to guide the knife, thumb to push the food. single use tools are only for stuff that other tools don't work well for. the side of a knife works fine for garlic.

                11 Replies
                1. re: chazzerking

                  yeah, but NOWHERE near as dramatic! {;>o

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    Maybe they'll give Gallagher a show next.

                    1. re: LabRat

                      LOL! For me, it's quite exciting to watch Rachel Ray use her knife: I keep waiting for her to cut off her nails...

                      1. re: Claudette

                        Hey now! I've done that! Time for a manicure!

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          Hell! that's what nails are for isn't it? absent their presence, I'd have shorter fingers

                          1. re: chazzerking

                            sally hansen nail hardener has nothin' on a wusthof!

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Alkapal (what does that mean by the way?)
                              The first time I had Thai basil shrimp I saw the lemongrass slices and thought they looked like toe nails! Can't be too careful!

                            2. re: chazzerking

                              Chazzerking - yes and then you might slice your fingers! I call them finger guards!

                    2. re: chazzerking

                      That is the way I was taught too. I move the food. I didn't see the episode, but I use the side of my knife for garlic.

                    3. The best knife skills I have ever seen, hands down, is Jacques Pepin. I don't know how he does this without losing a finger every now and then (of course, he's being doing this for roughly 60 years). And I'm pretty sure I've never seen him move the food.

                      25 Replies
                      1. re: bnemes3343

                        I've been watching his technique show recently and I believe he does say to move the food.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          Here is an excerpt from his 'tips and techniques'. He definitely moves his hand back over the food with the knife following:

                          "Handling your knife properly is your first concern.

                          1. Hold the item to be cut with your fingertips tucked under and your thumb benind them.

                          2. The blade "rests" and slides directly against the middle section of your fingers.

                          3. As you chop, the knife follows, in fact, "glued" to the fingers, and it slides up and down the fingers at the same rate all the time.

                          4. The speed at which the fingers move back determines the thickness of the slices.

                          1. re: bnemes3343

                            Thanks - I guess I thought the hand sort of moved the food back, so to speak.

                            1. re: bnemes3343

                              Alton Brown's method (moving the food while rocking the knife against curled fingers) is the way I was taught by my chef-mentor. It is also the way that Julia Child taught on her TV shows. But both she and Pepin were quite tolerant of each other's idiosyncrasies.

                              In one way, if I were learning knife skills today, I would choose Pepin's method as it means you can leave long things such as celery and carrots long and just move down them. On the other hand, it puts a lot more torque on your knife edge than the straight rocking method in which you move the food.

                              Hey, whatever works!-

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                That's interesting. My mom taught me to use a Chinese cleaver when I was eight. It's not an option to move food into a cleaver!

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  I tend to use JP's technique for most tasks but there are some foods that work best when you push the item to be cut into the knife.

                                  I have noticed that AB tends to use a modified technique for onions and other round veggies. He used a clock dial technique and then makes the face cut. I use the traditional parallel and then longitudinal cuts before I cut the veggie crosswise into a dice.

                                  I don't like garlic presses, but Alton's marble block method makes for great TV.

                                  1. re: Kelli2006

                                    I used to use the same onion technique you use, then I tried the radial cut. Same results with much less work! I think you would like it. But onions are the only thing I use it for.

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      Someone showed me a quick way to cut onions w/o the longitudinal nor dial methods: cut the onion into quarters, leaving a bit of root in each quarter to hold the layers together. for each quarter, slice down the width of one side, then flip onto the other flat side and repeat before cutting crosswise. That's much easier, but less exciting, for beginners than trying to teach them longitudinal cuts.

                                      1. re: Claudette

                                        Yes, that is a great technique for people still fairly "new to the knife." At this point, I've almost forgotten about it. I use it for small onions when I need a fine dice, such as for salsas and things like that. But at least in the markets where I shop, it's getting more and more difficult to find a yellow onion (my preference for general cooking) that isn't closer to the size of a basketball than a baseball! With large onions I just use the radial cut, then use my chefs knife like a mezzaluna. I wish I could find smaller onions year round!

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          The radial cut seems to take so much longer, and doesn't result in the same size uniformity in the dice as the classic method of cutting an onion.

                                          I'm also amazed at the TV chefs who don't have basic knife skills (not AB). Giada had no idea how to chop a shallot the other day. I sighed.

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            I just recently tried the radial cut and it seems to get real ugly pieces but maybe I'm doing it wrong. I guess I'd rather risk my fingers and have beautiful tiny little pieces of onion. It's real funny that Giada can't cut since she went to Le Cordon Blue in Paris. Don't they teach knife skills in culinary school? I mean, Rachael Ray is much better at handling her knife- really, she's amazing with her knife.

                                            1. re: digkv

                                              The thing I've found in using the radial cut on onions is that I have to set aside my 10" chef's knife (favorite) and use my 6".

                                              When I do the old fashioned onion-dice method of halving an onion, placing half face down, then making horizontal cuts through it stopping short of the stem, then vertical cuts ditto, the onion slips and slides so I end up with a non-uniform cut that is less even than I get with a really good radial cut. But I only bother for recipes where uniformity of dice is critical to the end product.

                                              As for Giado, don't watch her often enough to have noticed her knife skills, but some people are just inept at some things, no matter how hard they try. Which is not to say that *is* the case with her. Only a possibility. But it also makes me wonder why she would allow a shot of her using a knife?

                                              1. re: digkv

                                                Rachael makes mistakes with her knife - she always slides the blade end of her knife to bring her food together. All that does is turn the blade and dull the knife. And yes, they teach knife skills in culinary school. I really haven't seen Giada cut in an incorrect manner. Racheal cuts quickly, but that doesn't mean she cuts properly.

                                                1. re: kprange

                                                  Rachel admitted on one of her shows that she doesn't cut properly. She said the Food Network Kitchen people gave her lessons, but she couldn't handle it and went back to her old ways. How sad - a bad role model for amateurs who imitate her.

                                                  I can see why it happens, though. I've tried to teach many of my friends proper knife-handling techniques, and they've all been resistant. Even though their techniques are dangerous and slow, they are comfortable with them after all these years. Sort of like hack golfers with bad swings who'd rather buy new golf clubs than take lessons. But I digress...

                                                  1. re: Claudette

                                                    "Proper" knife techniques are about two things: uniformity of cut, and speed of cutting. Both are important in restaurants - if the cuts aren't the same size, the cooking will be uneven, and if the prep person takes too long to get things ready, he/she will slow down the entire kitchen. Neither are tremendously important for the home chef. (Of course, in many commercial establishments, knives have taken a back seat to food processors and mandolines. On my simple V-slicer at home, I can make fries, slaws, or carrots/celery/etc. for salads or stir-fries in a fraction of the time that it would take me with a knife.)

                                                    All that said, I do find it easier to move the knife than the food. And I agree with other posters - use the back of your knife to scoop up cut stuff, not the blade, and I've never used anything to peel garlic but the back of my knife (I don't always chop it with the knife though; sometimes I mash it in a mortar with salt and/or other herbs/spices).

                                                    And Claudette, I so hear you about those golfers! I'm still swinging persimmon woods and forged blades, but I do pay for a swing checkup twice a year. They pay $600 for a new driver every year, and then pay about as much again to me at the 19th hole. ;}

                                  2. re: bnemes3343

                                    I've noticed that there are two basic motions used by many chefs. A forward rocking motion used on some items and another method that uses a pull back like motion. When I am slicing mushrooms for instance I will use the "pull back" motion but for harder items like carrots I get more control with the forward slicing. In either case you must keep the fingers tucked in and follow the knuckle to avoid injury.

                                2. re: bnemes3343

                                  I find myself watching JP and appreciating his technique as much as his recipes. It's kind of like watching Fred Astaire dance, you don't realize how good he actually is because everything looks so effortless.

                                  1. re: Scrapironchef

                                    That's a lovely (and fitting) analogy, comparing Jacques Pepin to Fred Astaire.

                                    1. re: gloriousfood

                                      Agreed. I recently saw a live cooking demo with Jacques Pepin, and graceful and effortless he was. His knife skills are impeccable (moves the knife, not the food), and I just loved watching him move around the kitchen. It was really beautiful, like a dance! I only hope to be so graceful in the kitchen at his age...

                                  2. re: bnemes3343

                                    I am going to have to watch what I do when I use a knife. I havent' really thought about it. I was thinking in my head how I do it - not always the best way - instead of actually doing it. (for whatever it's worth)

                                    1. re: bnemes3343

                                      Heh, I think the most impressed I've been in the knife skills department was on Iron Chef. Both Chen and Sakai were pretty amazing with their blades.

                                      1. re: GuidoTKP

                                        second that -- and up the ante with martin yan. (to mix some metaphors....)

                                        1. re: GuidoTKP

                                          Asians seem to have a thing with their knife skills - Ming Tsai's knife work is amazing, probably the best I've seen out of the TV chefs.

                                          1. re: GuidoTKP

                                            seeing Sakai tournee an apple with a Yanagi knife is quite impressive, as mentioned in the Top Chef thread, the only person I've seen do that on that show as Dale Talde


                                          2. re: bnemes3343

                                            Absolutely. Jfood spent hours watching JP's technique over and over again until he had the muscle memory down pat. Another VERY important point is the sharpness of the knife, has to be very, very sharp

                                            When jfood is prepping there are several knives to the right of the board to grab as needed. There are usually 4-5 dirty knives by the time prep is over.

                                            The 8" chef's is perfect for most of the tasks. Jfood slides it up and down along the middle section of the knuckles as he use his thumb to "push" the veggie at the correct speed and thickness. Jfood has found that the elbow firmly against his side gives him the most leverage, speed and control. A clove of garlic takes about 2 seconds for a thin sliced, a diced onion slightly longer.

                                            But then there are the times when it's a relaxing event with mrs jfood when there is more conversation than speed. During those times the knife is almost a back-drop to the discussions and jokes. Who cares how fast and with what technique is being employed during food-cook time. It's also interesting when mrs jfood is in charge of the recipe and jfood is the sous. She show jfood a bunch of stuff, send me to the prep area in the kitchan and say, "could you dice those onions please." Then jfood does a Zippity Doo Dah and has a great time just slicing and dicing.

                                            Jfood is now teaching little jfood the techniques and she's getting pretty good.

                                          3. I've taken a couple of courses on knife skills and they've always stressed moving the food to the knife.

                                            1. The only thing I have to say is that if you are going to get a cooking show, one should know how to somewhat use a kinfe. I really have a problem with the way Amy Finley cuts things - her knife skills are very poor.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: kprange

                                                If only that was the worst of her problems.... *sigh*

                                                1. re: kprange

                                                  Besides that she waves the thing about so much when she's chatting it makes it look like she's either about to take off her nose of sling it across the room. I cannot stand watching someone wave about a knife like that. Dangerous.

                                                  1. re: kprange

                                                    Have you seen cooking with the Neely´s? I can´t believe they have a show with those knife skills

                                                    1. re: cleveland park

                                                      Shortly after seeing the Good Eats knife skills show I took a class on knife skills at a local cooking school. That chef taught the move-the-knife method and I asked if that was a matter of personal preference and he said, "no, this method is etched in stone. Anyone doing anything else in a professional kitchen would be considered a hack."