December 14, 2010

# 4. Take a class to improve my knife skills.

On my 31 comes before 32 list, I set out to take a knife skills class. A few weeks ago, I was puttering around the internet looking for classes and found an Essential Knife Skills class at my local Sur La Table! After all the Thanksgiving preparations & the vacation away with family (don’t get me started on how much energy was put into packing up this small family of three!) I decided to treat myself to a class on a Monday night, all by myself! Have I ever told you that I find chopping food to be fun and relaxing? Is that weird?

When I got into the “class room” there were 20 stations set up for the students. At the front of the class was a massive island full of carrots, peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, celery and spinach…all waiting to be cut. There was a huge angled mirror hanging from the ceiling so people in the back could watch our instructor cutting. I think there was also a TV, but I was pretty close so I didn’t even look at it. The instructor stood right behind that mega chopping block at the left hand side of the photo.

The instructor started off by saying,

“Tonight we are going to breakdown what they teach in the first week of culinary school, but we’ll do it in 2 hours.”

Whoa. Deep breath.

Here’s my station. We each got a chef’s knife, a towel to clean our knife, an apron, a packet of knifey information, a nice cutting board and a big bowl to put all of our cut up food scraps in. I left my real camera in my purse, as I had no room on my station. I snapped photos with my cellphone. I think that’s allowed?

No one said anything…but I did get a few weird looks from my instructor.

First we learned how to properly dice potatoes & julienne carrots.

We practiced working on a rhythm with our cuts on celery & then we mastered the perfect chiffonade.

We learned how to properly cut a bell pepper & finely mince a clove of garlic. Garlic presses are frowned upon in the kitchen because they don’t remove the green sprout in the center of the garlic. This little green thing makes garlic very bitter! Garlic tastes best when it’s removed! You can only do that by hand. Fun fact!

I also learned that you’re supposed to position your knife at the top of your cutting board with the blade away from you when it’s not in use. Refer to the bell pepper picture for proper placement.

Accidents happen in the kitchen. It’s best to avoid them. I need to remember this.

My instructor laughed at how many people use a tomato to see how sharp their knife is.

I’m not sure why it’s funny. I found out my knife was pretty damn sharp with my tomato! But hey, he’s a professional with mad knife skillz and an artillery that rivals Dexter’s kill bag. So I’m totally shutting up about that.

This is the proper way to hold a knife when you’re cutting. It’s weird at first, but I’m totally used to it now!

You shouldn’t feel any strain in your fingers when you’re holding a knife this way.

You also need to tuck in your fingers that are holding the item to be chopped. You’ll avoid cutting flesh this way.

And here’s the orange segmenting part. I’ve done this before..You better believe I ate that orange!

Oh…the onion chopping…a room of 20 people chopping onions? Not pretty. The lady next to me had to walk out of the room from tearing up so much. A guy ended up breaking a glass as a result. CHAOS of ONIONS!


Definitely a good idea to save this for the end of the class.

I learned that if you are a contact lens wearer (which I’m not) it’s important to wear goggles while cutting an onion because the sulfur can get stuck in your contact lenses and make your life a living hell for a few hours. This is why people in the army wear glasses instead of contacts. Another instructor anecdote!

I got a name tag on my apron! I like the handwriting of the instructor’s assistant.

I like how she connected the c & y. That “a” is pretty cute too.

I’m a nerd for handwriting.

Overall it was a fun experience. I wish I could have practiced with more stuff in the actual class. We only got one of each thing to chop up and the pace was kind of fast. I learned a great deal about knife sharpening and built my confidence on holding a knife properly. You will never catch me holding a knife the wrong way again!

Sur la Table had lots of information about knives & gave a 10% discount to the students.

We took a break to look at all the knives that they had in their store. The instructor answered a lot of questions & showed us the differences between the knives they sold.

If I didn’t already have a good set of knives at home, the discount would have been useful!

What else did I learn??

Practice makes perfect!

  • Arne

    Hey, that’s how I hold my cutting knife. I thought I was doing it weirdly, but I guess I’ve been doing it right al this time. Maybe holding knives is my secret talent… 🙂

  • Ella

    Sounds great, I’ve always been a little knife scared (maybe I should take a class)! I wear contacts and I’ve found that as a result, I am not effected by the onions like people with bare eyes are. It’s interesting that it is supposed to be bad; I have always looked at it as a benefit.

  • Nicole

    I so, so want to do this! Thanks for sharing your experience. I need all of the “knifey” tips I can get 🙂

  • deon

    I love chopping!!! Its the best part about cooking. When you have good, sharp knifes… it is both relaxing and fun. Thanks for the tips. As much as I love to chop I dont know if Im doing it right. Im excited… Im going out to buy a pair of pink goggles tonight!


  • maija

    @Ella, same here! My contacts totally make it better, not worse. In fact, I didn’t think onions were a big deal until I was wearing my glasses one day – ouch!

    What a great idea to take this class – like you, I’m pretty self-taught & I’m sure I could be doing things more efficiently (and safely!). I did learn from a chef in my college days as a caterer how to cut an onion properly which is very useful.

  • retro sweets

    When I was young I never cooked but I love slicing and preparing the ingredients for my mom. In fact I am willing to slice mince and dice for hours as long as your won’t let me cook. My mom is not a chef and for year I was holding my knife in the wrongest of ways. You’re a fast learner Tracy. You positioned your knife properly each time you took pictures. I didn’t know that thing about garlic. Your instructor sure knows a lot of anecdotes.

  • Liz

    Such a fun skill to learn.

    And I have to say, I thought the hand writting was so cute too. It was the first thing that caught my eye about the picture, and I thought it was yours!

    P.S I adore your blog:-D

  • Sheena

    Very informative! I was always taught to use a serrated knife to cut tomatoes — is that true? And what did you do with all the food you chopped? I hope you were allowed/encouraged to keep/use/eat it!

  • Amina

    I love this! I love chopping stuff, except onions cuz my eyes cry. lol. But the goggles idea sounds like a winner. i bet this was a cool classt o attend.

  • joy the baker

    dude! i’m so glad you did that!
    that potato dice is pretty sick… and don’t even get me started on the orange segments. kinda the best thing ever.

    you’re a cool lady.

  • Stephanie

    You’ve definitely inspired me to take a class now. I’ve been considering it for a while.

  • Jessica

    That’s awesome that you did this! I just kind of chop things with no specific technique, so I’d definitely benefit from one of these. Would have been a good thing to ask for for Christmas! By the way, another contact wearer here with tear ducts of steel while onion cutting. 🙂

  • Lorena Dunn

    I love this! I love chopping stuff, except onions cuz my eyes cry. lol. But the goggles idea sounds like a winner. i bet this was a cool classt o attend.

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