Basic Equipment: Knives

My four most used knives

Without a doubt the tool that every Chef treasures more than any is their knife.  A really good knife should last you many years and become an extension of your hand.  Knives are a very personal choice and every Chef has their favorite.  My chef Instructor at l’Academie de Cuisine Francois Dionot would often tell us “your knives are like your girlfriend or wife, you wouldn’t share your girlfriend or wife with someone.”  I’m a Wüsthof man.  Their Chef knives are in my opinion the best all around knife.  They fit your hand well, are not too heavy and equally important are not too light.  I use an 8″ long blade with hollow ground edge to prevent vegetables from sticking to your blade.  I am equally comfortable with a 10″ blade, but the 8″ feels a little better for just about every task I undertake.

Wüstof’s Chef knife is made from a single piece of metal and is forged.  They are made from specially tempered, high carbon steel.  I like the Classic type with a black handle and rivets. I do not care for those ergonomic polypro handles, they just don’t feel right.  I like a bolster on my knife (the part of the blade where your forefinger rests, where the heel of the blade meets the handle).  There are plenty of chef’s knives that don’t have this (like the very popular Santukos) but I think it is key for comfort and to be able to hack through thinner bones.   If there was one knife that I would not leave home without, it would be this one.

The other knives I have included in this picture are the Wüsthof paring knife.  This would be the second most important knife to have in my kit.  I use this knife for every small task that requires me to be closer to my food.  This can take the place of a peeler or you can core tomatoes with it (don’t buy one of those silly tomato coring gadgets to clog up your gadget drawer).  It is extremely versatile.  I have a Wüsthof but you could choose another brand here.  Just make sure that it is made out of rust-free tempered steel and can hold an edge.  Don’t buy a paring knife that is too thin.  It will get a lot of abuse in a kitchen and can fall on the floor.

The other German knife I included is a Henckel serrated bread knife.  This knife will come in handy more often than you might suspect.  Get a long one 10″ or longer in case you will be slicing genoise cakes or other big slicing jobs.  Henckel is one of the main competitors of Wüsthof and they are in the same city of  Solingen.  I always imagined what that city might be like.  Kind of like the Jetsons Spacely Sprockets with their competitor the Cogs just across the strasse for them to see each day.  Solingen is the epicenter of German metallurgy and houses other competitors in the knife making world.

The final knife sticks out from the others and has often been compared by my students as a prison shank.  When I went staging in France in 1989 everyone who was butchering any kind of bird or meat was using one of these wood handled knives.  The blade is 70 millimeters long and is made of rust free steel (very important to buy the rust free as opposed to straight high carbon steel).  The blade is fairly stiff, can get really sharp and can take some serious abuse.  I use it every time I bone anything.  The only problem is you can’t find it in the USA.  You have to go to France.  And while you are in Paris take the the subway to Chatelet/les Halles, make your to way to E. Dehillerin, walk in to this historical landmark (which had Julia Child as a frequent cutomer) and buy this blade for about 10 euros.  I love it and I could easily have purchased a more expensive, somewhat similar and less useful German knife.  I like this knife because it is short so you can get right into the action but just long enough so that your fingers aren’t always in contact with the meat.

I of course have many other knives in my knife kit, but if I travel with my knives ( and I have often) then these are the ones I take with me.  It is very important to buy knife guards for each of these blades when you travel and of course check them on.

If you are looking to purchase some of the knives I describe let me urge you to visit my OpenSky shopkeeper page and buy it there.

I will leave you with a picture of some of the original chef’s knives I received when I went to Culinary School at l’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda Maryland.  Both of the knives on the outside are Henckels and came in my original knife kit back in 1987.  This is what they look like after twenty years of hard use.

L-R Henckel 3" paring, French Dehillerin boning knife and Henckel 10" Chef's knife


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