Sunday, November 28, 2010

Can Knife Skills be Learned in Class?

Image from Lauren McDuff's The DIY Chef

For years, I have toyed with the idea of going to a cooking school and taking a knife skills class, and the reason I still have not done it is because I know that the primary lesson I'll learn will be "go home and practice over and over again." I've gone through books on knife skills, combing over the diagrams. I've watched video tutorials. I researched different styles of knives to learn how some are constructed in a way that aids measuring (the size of and distance between rivets are not insignificant).

Even in the self-taught instruction I've had so far, the last word is always, "Now buy a sack of potatoes, onions, and carrots so you can practice, practice, practice."

For me, I love being in a traditional, face-to-face, classroom environment. I learn well in this setting because I am motivated by not wanting to appear dumb in front of other learners and the instructor. However, I know I will never actually master any knife skills in this setting. The most I will get out of it is a slightly deeper understanding than I would get from a book or video, and probably more importantly, some real-time feedback about my form and movements. Everything else I would want to learn will only come with 1) focused practice and 2) more repetition than would normally occur a two-person household. Seriously, what would I do with 10 lbs. of diced onion?

The flip side of this is why does a home cook need knife skills in the first place? I have my very basic skills down, and I don't feel that I am slow with prep work. And when once or twice a year I try to impress people with my cooking, I can be nit-picky and push to the side any carrot stick that is not perfectly julienned. But on a day-to-day basis, I really don't care if my dice is precise, just as I don't care if there is a stray dribble of sauce on the side of the plate when I set it down on the table. Dinner at home is not where I'm concerned with wiping rims. And, even if I were to cook three meals a day, seven days a week at home, that's still not enough repetition in a short enough window of time to truly "master" any skill.

The purpose of going to a knife skills class, for me, would be to have a fun night out (or a series of five fun nights out) where I could dabble a little deeper into one of my hobbies, and hob-nob with people whose skills I hold in high regard. I'm sure I would learn a lot being around experts, observing their skills, asking questions in real-time, but I also think it's good to have realistic expectations of what a hobbyist home cook will actually learn in a few hours.

3 comments:

Darius Kazemi said...

The way I learned to supreme a grapefruit quickly and efficiently: I was doing prep work at an event for a chef friend and she handed me a bucket of 100 grapefruits and said, "Supreme these."

As far as what you would do with 10 lbs of diced onion, you could make an onion marmalade. That 10 lbs will cook down to a relatively small amount of one of the most delicious sweet/savory condiments out there. (This recipe calls for onions sliced thin but you could probably get away with diced, or at least drop the diced onions into a food processor.)

Jill E. Duffy said...

I played Taboo the other night. It was my turn, and Boyfriend was on my team. I picked up my first card, looked Boyfriend in the eye, and gave the clue, "It's my favorite vegetable." He shouted, "Onion!" So, Darius, the only problem with making onion marmalade or onion jam is that I will eat it all and make myself sick, even if I intend to give it away as gifts.

To be serious, though, it's an excellent suggestion! Usually people say, "Practice on onions, carrots, potatoes, and then make stock," but by god that is boring.

Darius Kazemi said...

I became a convert to onion marmalade at K.O. Prime, where it beautifully accompanies the best steak I've ever had in my life.

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