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Dec 28, 2011 08:28 PM

Would you say that a knife skills class is worth it?

Im a college student who loves to cook. I was inspired by Hung Huynh from Top Chef and would LOVE to learn to chop with his speed and precision one day. The look on Tom Colicchio's face as he stood by and watched Hung break down chickens was priceless. In fact, im looking to take a knife skills class at the French Culinary Institute of New York...maybe even study at Le Cordon Bleu in France...okay me not as i probably wont have time while pursuing a career in medicine. But would it be more worth my while to invest in a few good quality knives instead and rely on videos and careful reading of The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills? Or would you say that a knife skills class is worth it?

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  1. I suppose it depends on where your knife skills are now to determine if the price of a knife skills class is of value to you. I will recommend a book that not only includes knife skills but a lot of other kitchen techniques as well: Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques.épins-...

    I've never taken a knife skills class and I know I could beat Casey Thompson TC3 in an onion chopping competition. That's not much of a boast however.

    13 Replies
    1. re: John E.

      Jacques Pepin's book teaches techniques.

      I believe the OP is looking for a class that teaches how to wield a knife that would make a food processor blush in envy.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        That's my point. A knife skills book teaches knife skills. The OP indicated an interest in cooking and mentioned a book on knife skills. . Pepin's book teaches knife skills as well as other kitchen techniques.

        1. re: John E.

          OP said: "I was inspired by Hung Huynh from Top Chef and would LOVE to learn to chop with his speed and precision one day."

          Pepin, for all of his gifts, was not a whiz at speed and precision with the knife.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            What's the matter with you? The book will not teach the OP to use a knife with the speed of Pepin, although I would bet that anybody posting here would be thrilled to have Pepin's knife skills. The OP indicated an interest in cooking. The OP mentioned a book. I simply suggested ANOTHER book that would be helpful in pursuing that interest. Why are you such a contrarian?

            1. re: John E.

              Perhaps you are using words too big for me.

              I'm just saying that Pepin is not the person to learn speed and dexterity with a knife, which is what the OP was asking about.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Do we really have to go in circles like this? The OP did not ONLY indicate an interest in speed and dexterity with a knife. The OP mentioned an interest in cooking to the point that cooking school was mentioned without the intention of cooking professionally. I made a suggestion that would encourage the pursuit of this interest. Again, why so contrarian? Do you think that reading Pepin's book would DIMINISH someone's knife skills?

            2. re: ipsedixit

              i beg to differ. I assisted Pepin in several cooking classes some years back, and his knife skills were incredible.

              To the OP, if you can't afford both the knives and the class, I'd invest in the
              knives first because you can't to the kind of work you aspire to with poor
              knives. The key to speed is practice, but you should have the techniques
              down first so you're not practicing bad habits.

              1. re: ferventfoodie

                Agreed as Pepin did write the Bible on technique. The price of the class includes knives to use during class as well as books and uniform. Im sure the knives provided are decent enough to practice with. I can afford both the knives and class, but what if a book is a good substitute? That $600 could have gone towards a better knife. I've taken too many classes where I would have done just as fine without the instructor and just a book. Im self taught in piano, guitar, spanish, and even animation. Maybe what im asking is that can one simply use a book and diagrams with the occasional youtube video in place of an instructor when it comes to knives? Besides, Im looking at Lanvin boots that cost $700 which I much rather buy lol.

                1. re: yeahboiii

                  I've taught myself knife skills without ever taking a class. I'm not quite Hung Huynh, but my skills are better than those of several pro cooks I know (humility is overrated). YMMV, but I don't think there has ever been a better time to teach yourself a skill cheaply than right now - there's a lot of good free instruction out there.

              2. re: ipsedixit

                Hung Huynh from Top Chef uses a thinned long bladed slicer (a sujihiki) for most of his cutting work. Sometimes a Chinese cleaver also. The important difference is he prefers a knife with a very flat edge profile and he keeps it wicked sharp so he can chop straight up and down (what Petek calls 'hammer chopping'). This is a very fast way to cut produce, and it isn't too hard to learn, but neither Pepin nor a normal knife skills class will cover it. It differs a bit from rock chopping (which they usually teach in knife skills classes) and push cutting (the 'power stroke' when using a Japanese knife or when cutting something large) - it is very quick, but can be difficult to cut things that are especially hard or large, and is also difficult to cut thick but uniform slices.

                Basic skills like learning the 'claw' technique and the pinch grip are useful if you want to learn this style of cutting. So if your basic skills are lacking, a skills class or Pepin's Complete Techniques can help (though the instruction you can get for free online is a viable alternative). After that, you need a very sharp knife that's thin behind it edge and has a decent-sized section of straight edge. That and a lot of practice.

                Here is a video:
                He starts chopping at 0:40 or so. Note - Normally, that's not a good technique for tomatoes - they just get smooshed. Salty can do it because he is a good sharpener and his knife is fresh off the stones.

                Pepin himself is actually quite fast and efficient at breaking down a chicken.
                Keeping the tenderloin on the breasts would make breaking down a chicken just a bit slower. I believe Hung on the Top Chef relay race separated the tenderloin from the breast like Pepin, but you can't quite tell from the edit:

          2. re: John E.

            I have Pepin's Complete Techniques already which is actually right next to me lol. While its a great all around book, I think a book whose primary focus is knife skills would be beneficial.

            1. re: yeahboiii

              I'd first get a book and practice with the knives you have. Learn technique first and slowly. Speed will only come with practice. Unless you work in a kitchen you will never be as fast as someone who slices and dices for a living and, even if you cook for a living, you will never come close to Hung. He's in a class of his own.
              After you've become competent with your knives then go out and buy some really good ones - you don't need a 10piece set. Most chef will do 80% of their cuts with one knife and the rest of their set fills in the other 20%. As a medical student you will end up sacrificing speed for more exacting, detailed work anyway - it's the nature of doctors.

              1. re: bobbert

                I think this is really good advice. Because you've been able to learn so many things on your own there's no reason to think you can't learn it from a book. After practicing on your own for a while you will know if you need a class (it can always be in the future when you have the money to do it,) and can then ask the teacher about anything you have been having trouble with or would like to be able to do better/ differently.

          3. I took one a few years ago, and found it life-changing. I still use the food processor often, but I don't hesitate to grab a knife and slice and chop with abandon.

            How about a class and one good knife?

            6 Replies
            1. re: sr44

              3 sessions costs $600 which is why im hesitant. In all its 15 hours. I can splurge on not just a good but an incredible knife if I dont take the class.

              1. re: yeahboiii

                I can think of a lot better ways to pursue your interest without spending that kind of money. Take that money and spend it on knives and vegetables. Then go online:


                Practice your knife skills after watching videos on the web.

                1. re: yeahboiii

                  No, it's not worth $600. Get a good knife, not an incredible one, and a good pan. Get a book, if you can't get some free advice somewhere, and watch a few cooking shows.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    Trust me. I have good pans. Mainly Falk with that occasional Le Creuset. Just have cheap knives. I never really got to buying great knives as I've always told myself, Im going to get a Bob Kramer haha.

                    As for cooking shows. I know how to cook. Besides, food network doesn't really feature anyone with knife skills to be jealous of. I think of them more as television personalities rather than actual chefs. I tend to swim around in Thomas Keller waters. And dessert? While others may be drawn to Paula Deen, Pierre Herme calls my name. After all, he is a world renowned patissier. Im pretty much a fine dining snob. Maybe I should have said this but im advanced in cooking but rely heavily on having everything mise en place. While I have the confidence to make a meal that even Anton Ego wont spit out, I lack the confidence with a knife.

                  2. re: yeahboiii

                    I think you can find a class in NYC for much less than $600 if you call check out the smaller schools.

                    1. re: yeahboiii

                      That seems to be to be a lot of money and I doubt that they are going to teach you anything that you make you insanely fast. Once you know proper technique additional speed comes from practicing those techniques, over and over and over. Beware that trying to go faster than you are ready to do will only put you in the ER with missing skin from your fingers.

                  3. It's a mistake to think of Increasing speed with a knife as a goal, in my opinion. You need to learn proper technique for safety and efficiency, but trying to speed up your work could lead to injury. Increased speed comes with experience, and should not be forced.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: GH1618

                      yeah i realize that. I guess I can do what Julia Child did in Julie & Julia, and buy a truckload of onions to practice on lol.

                    2. I'm not sure a knife skills class is worth $600, but I think a knive skills class is very important. Perhaps you can shop around for a more affordable class?

                      Learning how to safely use a few different styles of knives to accoplish a variety of tasks would go a long way toward making your cooking experiance more pleasurable for sure. I'm not sure what you might find at FCI is an emphesis on very precise cuts and how chefs describe them (French names you will never use again) on the other hand they will most likely have a large volume and variety of product available for you to experiment with.

                      Lastly, a fancy/expensive knive goes wasted on someone who doesn't know how to use it properly.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: mikey031

                        Well it is 15 hours. I saw a knife skills class at the Institute of Culinary Education and it costs $100 for 3 hours. So it seems the price is fair. Maybe its just because I live in NYC. Heres a description of the FCI class in case you're wondering:

                        1. re: yeahboiii

                          I would suggest the class at ICE, especially if it is still being taught by Norman
                          Weinstein who is well known for his knife skills classes. He taught at the school I worked
                          at and I learned a lot from him.

                          I know there are cheaper classes in NJ if you have a way to get there.
                          I think a class is helpful because the instructor can watch you and correct any mistakes
                          you may be making .

                          Lastly, I disagree with mikey about "fancy, expensive" knives. A well constructed,
                          sharp knife should make it easier for anyone to chop,dice, etc., whatever their skill
                          levels. Good knives are a long-time investment if you care for them.

                          1. re: ferventfoodie

                            The OP is interested specifically in the kind of flashy, speedy cutting demonstrated by Hung Huynh on Top Chef. The problem with Norman Weinstein is he doesn't teach that kind of cutting, and he doesn't like the kind of knives that work best for that technique. He is a big proponent of rock chopping with curved German style knives. For the technique the OP is looking to emulate, you need thinner, straighter knives and a different cutting motion.

                            I'd modify Mikey's statement to as follows: an expensive, well crafted knife is completely wasted on someone who doesn't keep it sharp. Sharpening is definitely more important than what knife you have. But also, Mikey is very right in a sense - though a good knife offers advantages to everybody, you don't take full advantage of a good knife unless you develop the skills to use it in an efficient manner.

                            1. re: ferventfoodie

                              "Lastly, I disagree with mikey about "fancy, expensive" knives. A well constructed, sharp knife should make it easier for anyone to chop,dice, etc., whatever their skill levels. Good knives are a long-time investment if you care for them."

                              What mike said is that a fancy knife is wasted, if you don't have the knife skill to take advantage of it.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I understand what mikey said, and I still disagree. A good, sharp knife should
                                make it easier - and safer - for anyone to cut, and I don't necessarily think that
                                is a "waste".

                        2. Initially, it is worth considering the distinction between knowledge and skill. The former may be taught and learned, the latter must be practiced and earned. A good class, designed to teach skills, will offer the requisite knowledge as well as supervised chances to perform. If the class offered is not significantly "hands on" (the knife) it is not worth $600, and I suggest using the money to purchase a book and materials on which to practice.

                          If you will indulge my analogy by way of anecdote . . . .

                          I recall when I was fresh out of college, I took a job teaching GRE, GMAT, and LSAT preparation courses. My job was superficially to explain the basic knowledge required to take the examinations: syllogisms, analogies, Pythagorus' theory, etc. Having done well on the tests, I could similarly reflect upon my experiences and lessons learned. Ultimately, however, any fundamental success was based upon practicing example questions with the class and encouraging each student to spend as much time as possible practicing on their own.

                          At bottom, the classes were good for some of the students because they got them to practice. On the other hand, I am certain that many of them would have been just as successful had they purchased prep books for a fraction of the cost and devoted all of the class time to practice instead. In your situation, I would examine what type of student you are and decide which approach seems to fit. Either way, practice!*

                          *I thought about relating the tale of developing my dart throwing skills, as it similarly boils down to plenty of practice. The cost of that endeavor, upon reflection, was quite expensive - I went through a lot of pints while honing my abilities.