I'd easily qualify for a "world's worst chopper" award in the kitchen, so booking a knife skills class at Jamie Oliver's shop/training centre in London seemed a wise move. Here's some useful tips I picked up.
YouTube is full of knife-handling demonstrations, of course, but as someone who needs a lot of help learning new manual tasks, I favoured a hands-on approach. That also meant that I'd be working with decent equipment, rather than practising with the motley collection of blades in my own kitchen.
So on a recent whistle-stop trip to London (and in preparation for this week's Food Week coverage), I booked a two-hour course at the Jamie Oliver-branded Recipease food and kitchen emporium. (Apparently having a TV career and multiple restaurants and an eponymous magazine isn't enough to fill all the hours.)
Oliver himself doesn't run the classes, of course - my trainer turned out to be Elly, a chef from Geelong. Having a fellow Aussie on hand was certainly useful, given that I was easily the most incompetent person in the room, requiring constant reminders and a fair bit of manual guiding to even produce a facsimile of aptitude. In contrast, one of my fellow classmates sliced pears and cabbages and carrots and onions so effortlessly I wondered why she'd done the course at all.
I didn't get anywhere near that level of skill, and I suspect several more kilos of carrots are going to have to be massacred before I feel basically competent. As Elly put it in the understatement of the century: "This is not something you'll necessarily master in a hurry." (By you, she meant me, not the other foodies around the benches.)
On the other hand, if I'd eschewed the class and tried to teach myself online, I suspect I'd have fewer fingers right about now. And at least I now finally know how to make a decent mayonnaise and dice an onion properly.
Given my neophyte status, I'm not going to try and explain the ideal techniques for slicing we got taught. What I can sensibly pass on are a bunch of related tips on sensible and safe knife handling:
- Put a damp cloth or napkin underneath your chopping board to stop it from slipping.
- You can maintain the sharpness of a knife with a home steel, but if it's already blunt, you're wasting your time. Give the blade a swipe or two every time you use it - unless you're running a commercial kitchen, you don't need to go through a full sharpening process every day.
- If you want your knife professionally sharpened, ask your local butcher or fishmonger. If you're a regular customer, they'll probably do it for nothing. (I doubt this will work in Woolies or Coles though.)
- If your knife is noisy when it's going through something, it's too blunt. (Also, if you're crying when chopping onions, that's also often an indication of bluntness, as well as incompetence.)
- If you're a blithering kitchen idiot like me, take a course. Reading can only get you so far.