By far one of the most important tools in a chef’s arsenal is their knives. Knives are also a very personal thing. From brand to style to weight to material, not only can chef’s knives vary greatly in look and feel, but there is also a wide range of types of knives that are used for very specific tasks in the kitchen. There are also different styles of knife use. Finding the right knife for the right chef for the right job can make a world of difference.
We talked to The Kitchen’s Executive Chef Kelly McCown and Chef de Cuisine Allyson Harvie to get an up close and personal look at their knives of choice, and to get their tips and tricks of the trade.
What are your knives of choice and what do you use them for?
McCown: Style-wise, I use a 10″ Western style chef’s knife (bladed 90/10), a 6″ petty knife (my go to, a bladed Western style 50/50), a 12″ slicer (bladed traditional Japanese right-hand style Yanagi Ba), and a poultry knife. The brands I use are Suisun, Takahara, Misono, and Masamoto. Every knife has a use, much like with a tool box, i.e. screwdriver for screws, hammer for nails, and so on.
Harvie: The knifes I use I had made personally for me when I was in NYC, for when I was on Iron Chef. They were made at Korin Knife store. They are a Western Japanese style knives called Togiharu Santoku. I prefer knives with wooden handles; it’s a weight distribution thing. Most of us use a variety of different knives based on the task at hand.
Where did you first learn how to use knives properly?
McCown: When I first began cooking. In the late 80’s when I began cooking, it seemed that German steel was most prevalent in the professional kitchens that I worked in. When I worked for Roland Passot at La Folie in 1989, that was the first time I had seen a Western chef using Japanese knives. I learned from him about the care and sharpening of carbon steel with Waterstones.
Harvie: Growing up my parents taught me at a young age how to use a knife, and it was very important that we cooked dinner as a family, so I guess that’s where it started. But of course in culinary school, and over the years, my knife cuts have been perfected.
How do you take care of your knives?
McCown: I use wet stones (Waterstones) for sharping, and sometimes brief use of a steel sharpener.
Harvie: I personally sharpen my own knives on a glass stone.
Do you let anyone else use your knives?
McCown: Only my CDC, (“Chef de Cuisine” Allyson Harvie), otherwise knives are a very personal thing, an extension of one’s own hand.
Harvie: I tend not to let anyone use my knives.
Are there any meats or other foods you particularly enjoy working with in terms of butchering or cutting?
McCown: Seafood. It requires long elegant strokes.
Harvie: I enjoy breaking down pigs and lamb. I learned a lot of these skills when I did some internship time with Chris Cosentino at Boccaloni, and with Brandon Jew when I was at Bar Agricole.
How important are knife skills in a kitchen?
McCown: Incredibly important. Though with the advent of Modern Cuisine, the new generation of cooks as a whole lacks these skills.
Harvie: Knife skills in a kitchen to me are the foundation.
Who do you feel you learned the most from in terms of knife skills or butchering?
McCown: I really developed my own style. I always had a natural feeling and aptitude with a knife. I have a very unique technique, a blending of both Western and Japanese styles. In layman’s terms the western style pushes and pivots on the front of the knife, while the Japanese style pulls and slices through. I pivot on the heel of the knife with a short forward push and a long backward stroke.
Harvie: I learned a lot from my time at Bar Agricole from Brandon Jew, and from Chris Constentino, and from there I just developed my own style. Of course I learned a lot when I was at Corti Brothers when I returned back to Sacramento.
Do you have any “funny” knife stories?
McCown: I stabbed my sous chef after sharping my knife once. That’s all we need to say about that.
Harvie: Well I did see Kelly stab one of our cooks last week, and we liked him. Haha. For me, it was when I was at Salt House and we were just opening. My Chef and I were 20 tomato salads deep and amongst all the chaos he sliced my middle finger open. Once he did he immediately took me by the hand and slapped it right on the flat top stove to stop it from bleeding. Needless to say I will never have a tomato salad on my menus again.
Any tips for aspiring chefs and/or at-home cooks?
McCown: Keep your knives sharp!