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Aug 30, 2011 11:22 AM

What are these 'knife skills' of which you speak?

I can chop stuff.

Given a good knife I can cut wafer thin slices of stuff, and 2mm dice of stuff.

Do I have 'knife skills'?

oops - prolly should have posted in 'not about food' - I evidently lack 'posting about knife skills' skills.

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  1. Generally speaking, "knife skills" refers to a combination of ability, precision, and speed, with a soup├žon of safety thrown in for good measure. In a serious restaurant kitchen it's necessary not just to be able to cut wafer thin slices and dice, but to do so with consistency at a pace that ensures the diners aren't kept waiting.

    There are also more specialized knife skills like butterflying a leg of lamb, filleting a fish, or deboning a chicken without removing the skin. And beyond that, sculpting vegetables and fruits into artistic creations. Lots of things a well-trained chef can do with a good knife.

    9 Replies
    1. re: BobB

      Hmmm. I can fillet various shapes of fish, and can carve vegetables and fruit into quite frankly pointless pretty shapes - but I've never filleted meat, (nor cooked meat with bones, come to that).
      As for speed - it's never been a goal of mine to win a speed-chopping contest.
      And as for the terminology (ref manachef's comment below) - uh, knife, blade, handle, slice, dice, ouch, bandaid. Is there more?

      1. re: Peg

        Funny; but yes. Plenty more terms, and you do need to know what they mean so that when your chef tells you she wants a salad with basil chiffonade, I don't hand her a plate with minced basil atop. :)

        1. re: mamachef

          I know 'chiffonade' - but anything involving bones are outside my sphere of knowledge (or interest).
          Are 'knife skills' mainly about handling animal proteins?

          1. re: Peg

            You know, I kinda make a separation there. You can have great knife skills and not be skilled in butchery or fishmongering. Not a great qualifier for a chef, but true all the same. To me, the bones and cuts all speak to butchering; knife skills, IMO, is less about piecing an animal out than what you do with a cutting board and a vegetable or two. But that's just me. :) And then there's tourneeing, which is kinda the same thing only on a smaller, finer scale.

        2. re: Peg

          Hmm, you've never cooked a whole chicken? Chicken legs? Or grilled a porterhouse steak? Or cooked beef short ribs? Pork ribs?

            1. re: BobB

              Could be, but then that means she has never cooked a whole fish either, nor any cross-sectional cuts of fish. I guess Peg will have to clarify, if she chooses to.

              1. re: huiray

                I am indeed pescetarian. I have fileted fish, but I've not dealt with bones bigger than a large salmon has.

                1. re: Peg

                  Aha. Thanks for the response.

      2. If you are reasonably fast and know the terminology behind the cuts and can turn out precisely-cut food in the size required, you have knife skills. Some people value speed over end result, but that does not denote skills with a knife.

        4 Replies
        1. re: mamachef

          OTOH, if two people can produce the same quality of cut/chopped stuff (size, accuracy, uniformity, etc.), but one does it 50% quicker, that person has better "knife skills", no?

          1. re: aqn

            YES, I hire people based on their knife skills and speed. If someone can prouce the same quality but in half the bet I am going to hire them over the other. I pay my cooks to do a lot of prep and if I have someone that can do all of their prep in 4 hours vs 8 hours. That is about $50 less that I have to pay per day. We do prep 5 days a week, so that saves me $250 a week, $1000 a month, 12,000 a adds up.

            1. re: aqn

              Definitely faster knife skills. And if I ran into a situation where I needed to hire somebody and still pay attention to the overhead, I'd want the person you're talking about, as long as the end result was the same.
              My perspective is definitely influenced by having worked in some restaurants where precision was valued way more highly than speed - some of the garnishes were absolutely impossible to do quickly re: placement and presentation. When you're working w/ tweezers, you're working pretty slow.

              1. re: mamachef

                Yes, I is all about quality. If the quality isn't there then the speed does not matter at all.

          2. It all depends on what you aspire to. At home, it probably doesn't matter, as long as you get the result you want. I have a friend who dices onions with a butter knife, and it drives me crazy to watch it, and when I suggest she use a proper knife, she uses a steak knife instead. But her food tastes pretty good (until she tries to slip a fat-free recipe past me).

            But in a professional kitchen all this stuff does matter, because you need to turn out a consistent predictable product, quickly and safely.

            I'm quite proud of my knife skills, actually. They're quite flawless. So flawless that two months ago, I ended up in the Emergency Room. The tech nearly passed out when she saw all the blood, staggered out of the treatment room and summoned the surgeon on call. When he arrived, his only comment was, "Wow, you must have some sharp knives." Ten stitches.

            1 Reply
            1. re: acgold7

              that's the catch-22 of killer-sharp knives. You won't cut yourself nearly as often, but when you do, it's a doozy.

            2. If it's raining, it's prolly folly to go outside without a brolly.

              But getting back on base, there's a well reviewed book on just this topic: Mastering Knife Skills by Norm Weinstein. It comes with a 30-minute DVD. This has been on my "to get" list for a while. I have adequate knife skills, but I'm sure I could pick up some pointers.


              Available from Amazon in the UK as well.

              1. The only knife skills that matter are the ones you actually use. If you are handy in cutting what needs to be cut, then you have knife skills. You may not have as many as someone else, but that really doesn't matter.