The four judges sit at a long table covered with a white cloth. There are three regulars. One is a world-class chef and the other two work for food magazines. The fourth guest judge is also well known, usually a television host or a cookbook writer. There are twelve contestants to begin with; all successful chefs in their own right, but at the end of the series only one will remain. A lot of cooking and drama will take place in-between. There will be arguments and fights. Emotions will run high and tears will flow. Just like in the kitchen of a real restaurant, the stress runs high. The contestants will have to prepare delicious gourmet meals in a very limited amount of time with a limited budget and please some very discriminating palates. Sometimes there is a theme that they have to follow: cook a certain type of food that they are not familiar with, or do it where there is very little equipment to work with. Sometimes the judges invite other hard-to-please folks to sample the food, or they take the contestants to another high class restaurant or hotel. At the end of each episode the winner is chosen and the cook with the worst dish is eliminated. They stand before the tribunal and the long lanky female judge exclaims in a sultry voice: “Please pack your knives and go.” Of course we’re talking about the popular cable series “Top Chef.”
Cooking is both an art and a science and having a good set of tools to do the job is essential. The ingredients of a great meal and one that is not so great are the same. The difference is all in the preparation. One of the most important chef’s tools is the knife, both for ease of preparation and quality. If you chop a green leafy herb or vegetable with a dull knife, for example, it will crush instead of cut. If you see liquid on the cutting board, that’s lost flavor. Add a few of these little mishaps together and they WILL affect the taste of the final dish.
There are basically twelve different types of knives that are used in the kitchen:
Chef’s knives: Used for a variety of jobs, especially chopping.
Paring knives: For small work.
Steak knifes: For cutting steak.
Fillet knives: A knife with a flexible blade for boning or skinning.
Butcher knives: All purpose knife.
Santuko Knives: Japanese cook’s knife.
Slicers: Long knife for carving meat.
Bread Knife: For slicing bread.
Boning knife: Stiff and narrow for separating flesh from bone.
Cleavers: For heavy chopping.
Round end slicer: Serrated knife without the pointed end.
Tomato knife: Small, multi-purpose serrated knife with an end for coring tomatoes.
Probably the most used and useful of all the knives listed is the chef’s knife. You can probably go to Wal-mart and get one that will do the job. But if you really want to see the difference, get one that the professionals use. It will cost you quite a bit more money, but will probably last a lifetime with the proper care.
At the low end of the price scale, but still a great value is the Cold Steel kitchen Classic chef’s knife. The blades are ice-tempered and then precision flat ground for maximum cutting power. The handles are carefully designed to ensure a strong, yet comfortable grip. They feature a stiff Zytel core on the inside and a soft rubber grip on the outside. This knife is a steal at around $20.
I worked in the restaurant business for quite some time and some of my favorite knives come from Victorinox, the German company famous for their Swiss Army Knives. These knives are beautiful to look at and perfectly balanced. A well-balanced knife can save you an awful lot of fatigue if you have a lot of cutting to do. The renowned Victorinox sharpness is guaranteed with these knives, as the blades are sharpened twice and the blade edges laser tested. You’ll spend $100-$150 for these knives.
If you think that Japanese chefs don’t know knives, just go to a hibachi restaurant sometime and watch them work. The SHUN Elite series feature Pakka wood handles with inlaid designs. The secret of SHUN knives is in the advanced steel used to make the blades. The cutting core is made out of SG-2; an exotic Japanese powdered steel. One of these beauties will set you back about $200.