Tools Make the Man (Person)

My cooking lessons ALWAYS start with an evaluation of knives and knife skills. As they say, tools make the man. Many, many people sadly do not have the right kind of knives and/or do not sharpen them at all. Once a year does not count.

I cannot stand using bad knives. My friends and clients know this is a huge pet peeve of mine. I have brought my diamond-edge honer across country on visits to friends’ homes! Yes, I am that obsessed.

The analogy I use is that you would not keep riding a bicycle with flat tires. Why? Because it’s awkward, physically difficult, very inefficient and bad for the bike. So you regularly check them and pump air into them when needed. Otherwise, you will stop riding that bike. Another analogy: you would not use a flat-head screwdriver on a screw shaped for a Phillips screwdriver. Why? Because it’s physically difficult and inefficient. You will give up.

Similarly, it is inefficient, physically awkward and possibly dangerous to use knives that are either not suitable to the task at hand and/or not sharp. You will not enjoy cutting with them. You will avoid it. Guess what — “real” food needs to be cut up. Good knives makes cooking real food much more pleasurable and efficient.

My favorite Asian Chef's Knife, only $5 at Shuang Hur Grocery! Keeps very sharp.

Some people go to Trader Joe’s and buy pre-diced veggies– fine if that is what works for you. However, you should still equip yourself with a few good tools: 2 good knives, a large poly cutting board and a two-slot sharpener. Not the tubular coarse-ridged sharpener that comes with knife sets. Those are not fine-edged enough. And I am not suggesting you spend lots of money. In fact I prefer chef’s knives from restaurant supply stores ($20 for 10″ knife and it’s dishwasher-friendly).

My own favorite knife is a wide 10″ chef’s knife from Shuang Hur Asian Grocery* that costs only $5.00. It sharpens like a dream, and is very light in your hand. I can bang it up and not feel bad. I use it to peel, chop, dice, mince, slice and cleave large hunks of hard root vegetables  and meat. See the butternut squash in photo? I push down once w/ two hands and it’s cut in half. A poly cutting board, as large as can fit on your counter, costs $15-20. A 2-slot sharpener is about $20. A diamond-edged honer from IKEA is $15. So for less than $100, you have tools that will last years and years. 

* Shuang Hur has two stores: one at University & Dale in St Paul, and one at Nicollet Ave & 27th, in Mpls. There is also a smaller version of this knife that is super sharp, but its smaller size means it’s not as all-purpose.

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