Taste | Mad Skills

Every chef, professional or otherwise, will tell you that the only thing you really need in order to be a great cook is some kick ass knife skills. And it’s true. It’s as if the seas part and all becomes clear once you can slice an onion, mince garlic or chop herbs. The world of cooking opens up and things that once seemed impossible, are suddenly possible, maybe even easy. I learned this lesson last year when I received the gift of a course at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) for Christmas and was amazed at what a HUGE difference even just one class made. If you can’t get out to a cooking school or class, I find these videos from Serious Eats to be incredibly helpful, and it’s great to set yourself up in the kitchen and test them out in real time.

And the even bigger shocker is that you don’t need a battery of knives to get the job done, either. The pros say three is plenty. Here’s what some of the finest chefs I know have recommended we all keep on hand. Nothing more, nothing less:

Paring Knife. It’s small but mighty. Made for paring, yes, but useful for so much more: peeling and cutting garlic, peeling onions, making orange supremes, peeling potatoes, dicing shallots, coring tomatoes, cutting lemon and lime wedges ... you get the idea. Our preference is a serrated paring knife, but they come smooth as well.

10-Inch Chef’s Knife. The master tasker. This one does the big work: cut melons, slice onions, chop herbs, carve chickens, slice meat, cucumbers, celery and so on.  Serious Eats even has a whole guide to the best ones, see them here.

Serrated Knife (like a bread knife). Perfect for bread, of course, but also for peeling pineapples, slicing tomatoes and eggplant, cutting melon, romaine hearts, slicing hard salamis, and on and on.

And the last thing I’ll say about knife skills: the true secret is that you should always be using an EXTREMELY sharp knife. It won’t only make life easier, it will also make it much safer. The greatest cause of kitchen cutting incidents come from knives that are dull.  So get yourself a honing steel and have your knives professionally sharpened often.