chopping, dicing, and mincing at Stir
Ian loves to cook, while I find it simply a functional task. I do the minimum to eat something acceptably pleasant, while Ian spends hours (at least sometimes) putting together a spectacular meal that is beautiful, delicious, and interesting. We used to bicker about this difference. He wanted me to cook more, I wanted him to stop "helping" me cook and to be happy he usually doesn't have to clean the kitchen. We've found more of a balance as of late, but part of working towards that balance was signing up for a knife skills class and investing in our tools (which he loves to use, and I love to clean, stack, and maintain).
After considering free classes at kitchenware stores, we worried we would end up with a biased recommendation for our impending chef's knife purchase (stores sell gigantic sets of a bazillion different knives, when you only really need three to six).
Enter one of Ian's culinary heroes, Barbara Lynch. Her demonstration kitchen, Stir, offers knife skills classes on a fairly regular basis. The classes are not cheap, but we're so happy we forked over (pun intended).
Our instructor was Jason Tom, who specializes in Asian cuisine. It was one of his last classes at Stir before moving on to his next culinary adventure. We chatted with him until all seven students arrived, then stepped up to the cutting boards. I had been a little nervous that everyone else would be there to hone (pun!) already impressive knife skills, but thankfully we didn't feel out of our league.
Jason started with the basics of how to hold and work with a knife using the dependable and cheap potato. (Start by cutting the vegetable into a block; this provides stability, which equals safety plus an aesthetically pleasing final product.) We then learned a few fancy cuts and helpful tricks. (To chop carrots so the pieces cook evenly, cut at a 45 degree angle, and give the carrot a quarter turn after each cut, adjusting the length of the next piece so they all end up with roughly the same mass.)
By the end of the class, we both had a good grasp of how to safely and effectively cut just about everything except our fingers. We also both enjoyed using the lightweight Japanese-style chef's knife (gyutou). We had been casually testing out knives in various stores the entire month before our class, and knew we had found our winner. (We definitely recommend in-store trial runs before investing: "The wand chooses the wizard.") The very next day, we were proud owners of the Misono UX-10 chef's knife (8.2 inches), and new fans of KitchenWares on Newbury.
I'm so glad we took this class together. I feel more confident in the kitchen, and am more willing to serve as Ian's sous chef (though I still wash his dishes before starting prep work). I'm also amazed at how much more enjoyable the kitchen is with effective tools. And effective does not always equal expensive: I love our $3 vegetable peeler and $30 ladle as much as our knife and cutting board investments. The right tool makes all the difference.
Here's to lots of happy cooking (and cleaning) in our kitchen!