The highlights of this topic are:
- Selecting and sharpening knives – safety
- How to achieve common cuts and invent new ones
- Cut of vegetables – visual and functional impact on the dish
- Understanding the appropriate cut in respect for the shape of the vegetable and the cooking method
You may already know that I was a dancer. I was also a dance teacher. One of the things I love about cooking – and teaching cooking skills – is to carry my dance experience into the kitchen. When I pick up a knife, it is connected to the position of my body and moves through the vegetables as if in a dance. The relationships of knife to chef, knife to board, and knife to the shape of the whole vegetable is what we study. It’s about these angles in relationship to each other, adding the motion of the knife, front to back, back to front, all coordinated with the mind of the chef. The final look of the cut vegetable is rhythmical, visually.
I use one kind of knife for almost everything I need to cut. It’s a Japanese style vegetable knife formulated from three kinds of steel . I love the wide, long, blade because it keeps me from cutting the fingers on my “claw hand”, the hand that holds the vegetable in place.
If dinner is running late I go for speed with my knife. Sometimes I need to close my eyes to keep the onion juices from burning out the tears. But I always go for safety first. One of my students had experienced being assaulted, held at knife point. She really couldn’t pick up a knife in the kitchen without memories slowing her down to a stop. The positioning we use makes sense for safety and control. The motion is graceful and kind. No one gets awards for the loudest sound on the cutting board, the way chopping looks on television.
Shapes are a key
The shapes of the vegetables before, during and after the cut are part of the mental process. Because we are cooking within the concept of wholeness, the idea of casting aside rounded edges to produce an evenly measured diced vegetable look is unconscionably wrong. Just because a carrot at one end is tapered small and tapered large at the other, I don’t discard parts of the whole. Instead, I look for finished cuts that give me the satisfaction of visual rhythm – restful on the eye and energetically whole.