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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 8:45 am 
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Joined: Mon May 19, 2014 1:52 am
Posts: 355
Location: Philly
Uniform sizes, same angles, equal pieces of product in a home kitchen sounds like French propaganda to me personally. Much rather do it like the Italians, rustic. So it actually looks like a normal person made it in their home. The grandmoms in Italy do everything in the air with the cheapest serrated steak knives ever. I've never even a chef knife over there. Well at least Southern Italy, I spit on the North.

But nothing is wrong with wanting some good knife skills or practicing with product. They (good knife skills) just aren't a perquisite in cooking and serving really delicious food.



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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 9:51 am 

Joined: Sat Mar 01, 2014 7:15 am
Posts: 1358
Location: Raleigh, NC
Why would you even bother with fine knives if you don't care about the skills that go with it? It's incongruous on a forum like this not to appreciate what the knives we spend a lot of time, money, and thought on are for. Almost anything can churn out knife cuts up to the standard of rustic Italian cuisine, but nonna is not my role model.

I frequently do a set menu as the diners watch and nothing earns me more more awe than knife cuts. They often ask me about it, far more than anything else, because it's something they appreciate immediately. People already understand a sear on a steak, so that's an expectation. On the other side, how a good sauce is made is incomprehensible to most people. I might as well be a wizard for their understanding of the process. But knife cuts are immediately obvious. You can't taste the difference, but the dish is aesthetically better for it, and we eat with our eyes before our mouths. There's also something to be said for clean cuts leading to less waste, less damaged food, and highly consistent bites.

So all that said, if you would prefer to make normal food, feel free to send me all of your nice knives. They're obscenely abnormal and I would gladly use them thus.


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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 10:27 am 
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Joined: Mon May 19, 2014 1:52 am
Posts: 355
Location: Philly
"highly consistent bites" is 100% certified French propaganda. If that's what you want cool but be aware there are plenty of cultures and cooking styles where that isn't at all desirable and one of them is the aforementioned Southern Italian cuisine, just as one example.

I was trying to explain that if you are a home cook then you don't have to worry or panic if your julienne or mince isn't 100% consistent in shape and size or if your batons aren't all equal in length. Granted I went to furthest extreme possible on the spectrum to make the point.

I did say there is nothing wrong with wanting good knife skills or practicing I just would say not to obsess over the details. I've seen plenty of people with excellent knife skills go for rustic cuts or not 100% uniformity.

Guess what I am trying to say is you can still have high knife skills and your end product be rustic or not uniformed in appearance. Everything doesn't have to come out perfectly shaped and sized. Basically I don't think this is a true statement:

as knife skills increase your product will be perfectly shaped/sized/uniform in appearance.

I believe that statement to be false and these statements to be true (!= means not equal too) :

knife skills != perfect cuts && knife skillz != good home cook



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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 12:17 pm 

Joined: Sat Mar 01, 2014 7:15 am
Posts: 1358
Location: Raleigh, NC
Strong words. I didn't know I was a 100% certified French propagandist. I guess I'm going to have to go back to thickening all of my sauces with roux and wearing a toque.

Certainly, one with good knife skills can chop things rustically. For most all cuts excluding classic French dishes, minute variation is very nice because it has a human feel to it. And leaving food nearer to its natural shape can be very attractive. But I don't think we're talking about the same thing. Good rustic cuts are still consistent. If you have a piece of potato in your soup bowl with twice the diameter of the piece next to it, you're either going to have mush or raw product. And it directly impacts how much of a flavor or texture you encounter in one bite or even one area of the tongue in a bite. We've all had that big bite of red onion. I don't care if you're a professional, a veteran home cook, or a child. Inconsistent cuts hurt a dish, sometimes badly, because the cook didn't care or couldn't do better.

I'm certainly not saying everything has to be up to Escoffier's written standards, because that goal is unrealistic for even advanced home cooks, but I am saying that consistency is crucial. Even rustic Italian food is helped by slicing the garlic the same thickness or making sure no one ends up with that quarter sized chunk of red onion. And this next bit is certainly personal, but I'm dramatically opposed, as much as I can be, to cutting corners expressly because it's only cooking at home. If there are time limits, everyone has eaten a cold cut sandwich. If you don't care, not everyone cares. But if one does care and has time there's a lot to be gained from cooking (and knifing) as well as possible in the home. It costs 30 extra seconds to practice and work on technique when cooking for two.

The point I wholly agree on is that good knife skills do not make a good cook. No one technique does. But they're certainly an element of cooking, just as sauteing or kneading. If you don't think knife skills are an element of good cooking, Japanese knives are incalculable overkill. This is a cuisine that makes the skill and precision of France knife work look oafish. Plenty of French cooks have ruined gyuto and sujihiki. Forget what they would do to a kiritsuke. So I seriously raise the question: what's the point of costly, fragile knives?


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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 12:45 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:48 pm
Posts: 87
Good post, Joe. At the most fundamental level, a knife evolved over thousands of years as a slicing instrument. Any motion that involves slicing will probably be fine for JKs. Other tools evolved to handle chopping, scraping, etc.
I have also found that the type of wood in the board can make a difference in how the edge reacts when the knife is in contact. My end-grain maple butcher block island reacts very differently to my Konos than does my end-grain walnut counter-top block.
Tom


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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:10 pm 

Joined: Thu May 29, 2014 8:38 pm
Posts: 1579
Really enjoy this thread. As a Noob in the JK realm, and always trying to improve my skills, the discourse here has been great. Question for the more highly skilled: I find that as I practice my chop, I'm playing around with different emphasis on wrist vs. arm motion. Is there a preferred technique there? Should I be keeping my wrist straight and using the whole arm to direct the chop, or trying to keep my arm stable to accentuate wrist action? My inclination is that more arm and less wrist probably results in a straighter cut, but not sure. I also notice that when I incorporate a little pull into my chopping to prevent accordian cuts, my Haruyuki has a a tendency to stick to my board a bit. I worry this could result in a chip or torquing if I'm not careful. Should I be using less pressure on the cuts?



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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:16 pm 

Joined: Sun Jul 29, 2012 1:36 pm
Posts: 375
Location: NY, NY; New Haven, CT
I want to thank you guys for the positive comments about my "ranting" post—very appreciated!

Interesting point, Tom. Of course I agree, but it wouldn't occur to me to make this distinction usually, at least when comparing two traditional end-grain products. I've noticed in particular that walnut can feel very different than other woods, perhaps due to its grain structure (or perhaps due to the way my friend takes care of his board). It some ways, it might be harder to move food around on, as if has felt grippier to me than some other woods. My main board has a terrific surface that is smooth and about as porous as glass (not really) even though it is mahogany board—Boardsmith just did a great job oiling and waxing it before I got it, so it has been easy to maintain a very good surface. I never scrape the knife "clean" against the board, but I have put a lot of effort into developing a gentle scrap technique because I think it is a very useful, perhaps even essential, part of basic knife technique. Of course, for "scraping" the board, I always flip over and use the spine or – much more often – use my pastry scraper.

I don't want to get into the tiff above, but I will add that nothing is wrong with rustic cuts and that I didn't mean to imply this. In fact, I think they are important for certain dishes. However, I think – actually, I know – there are still "techniques" for rustic cuts, and that these techniques still emphasize consistency in size where possible. And, BTW, I expect it was meant as a joke, but we should all remember that northern Italy is known – particularly among Italians – as a treasured food haven!

I should add that, when it comes to "technique," my sense is that people are usually judged by the quality of the product above speed because aesthetics are important. At least this is the way things are done in documentaries, etc. In competitions, speed may be a concern, but when it comes to judging, the quality of the cut, peel, dice, or whatever, is usually what is judged. The reason for this has been well articulated by those above: aesthetics are part of the dish, and knife skills are extremely important to aesthetics. It has been well documented that this is a major reason why Japanese and French cooking styles are so complementary, and why Japan has done so well in the Michelin scores since they were included in the ratings: both cultures stress technique and aesthetics as part of cuisine. Does this mean we all have to follow this model? No. Does it mean this model is required for good or great food? Of course not. But does it mean this is broadly recognized as a step up in the evolution of cuisine, and in the appreciation of food more broadly? Yeah, probably...at least in the same way a tailored suit usually outranks jeans in certain contexts, regardless of the fact that my own jeans cost more than my suit pants, and that I wear them more often and find them more comfortable!

I'll just bring this around: I'm not trying to argue that we should all measure our cuts. I'm just trying to promote that "knife skills" and their relation to "JKs" is, to me, all about the fun of having the right tool for the job. And in most cases, whether it be woodworking or cooking, the point of the right tool for the job is to allow the craftsman to do more nuanced and delicate work which allows the natural product to sing. I do not think it is about speed, or even maximal sharpness, but about control, consistency, and execution. But that is just my very personal aesthetic position. I really don't want to, or expect to, force it on others!



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Ownership experience: Konosuke, Masamoto, Tojiro, Wusthof, Henckels, etc.
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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:46 pm 

Joined: Sun Jul 29, 2012 1:36 pm
Posts: 375
Location: NY, NY; New Haven, CT
ChipB: I have some thoughts on this, but only as a amateur home cook. I mention that I studied percussion, but my real instrument is piano. Like percussion, Piano requires lots of attention to the wrist and the arm separately and together. And I'm short (about 5'6"), which means my cutting board is usually a bit high, which forces me to also think about my wrist versus my arm when using my knives. :)

The wrist is a much more delicate instrument than the arm. The arm usually provides the weight and power for a given motion, while the wrist is what guides and stabilizes the motion. This means that the work of the arm is transferred by the wrist. If you are using your wrist for "power," you're probably just going to wear yourself out. Less motion is usually better, and using the elbow fulcrum as the basis for motion, but the wrist as the basis for control, is probably going to give you the most efficient consistency. This does NOT mean your elbow has to move a lot: the arm can produce tremendous power for a knife just through its dead weight, so very small motions are plenty. It just means a small motion of your elbow or arm can replace a much larger motion of your wrist. Another way to conceive of the relationship is to think of a pool cue: a smooth stroke comes from having your elbow in the right place, using the weight of your arm, and allowing your wrist to control, guide, and provide follow-through. Obviously, your elbow moves a lots for that motion, but so does the cue. Cutting is a different motion, but the same coordination between the shoulder, elbow, and wrist probably applies...just with a much, much smaller range of motion and power!

I mainly push cut, not pull cut, through ingredients unless I'm very earnestly slicing (meat, bread, etc). This has to do with my height among other things, and not necessarily a preference on my part (it isn't like I THINK about pushing versus pulling...I just do what feels right). I would guess that you're getting stuck in the board because your not hitting the board flat, so your knife is digging in more at the back end, and your motion through the pull is exaggerating this and causing it to stick, which means you're over-compensating the cut because the knife isn't necessarily level with the board upon contact (and therefore not getting through all of the product evenly). I also think that, based on the wrist and arm, it is harder (unless you're quite tall) to keep the knife level with the board when pulling, and easier when pushing. If your pull cut doesn't use the wrist, it is likely not level, but if it uses lots of wrist, it is probably inconsistent. No idea if this is actually true as a generalization, but it is a thought, it is true for me, and it is easy to check. Either way, I'm not suggesting pushing is better, but only that pulling may require a little more attention to whether or not your wrist is providing the necessary amount of flex to round the cut on and off the board, rather than actually pulling the cut into the board too far before lifting or rounding out the cut.

If I start to apply weight to my chopping or do more aggressive pushing or pulling, I can easily get my knives to stick in the board. But they almost never do with regular cuts, so I tend to think that, when this is happening, I can probably let up a bit. But that is just me. In your case, I'd use the sticking as a good sign that you're falling into bad habits—don't worry about it, but see if you can avoid it by starting the lift and follow-through a bit higher off the board. If you're pulling, it means the slicing motion happens at the back of the knife first and the front of the knife last, which means the back of the knife should be the first part of the knife to begin the upward motion of the board as well, and the front should continue the downward and backward follow-through to finish the cut.

I'd be interested to know whether this helps at all, or whether it comes of as rubbish for you!



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Ownership experience: Konosuke, Masamoto, Tojiro, Wusthof, Henckels, etc.
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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:10 pm 

Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 3:29 pm
Posts: 129
Salemj--I want to thank you so much for all the thoughtfulness you have brought to this thread. I never expected so much when I decided I needed to ask about this topic. I am still re-reading your comments and thinking about them. I hope to be able to give a more meaningful reply to some of the issues you brought up--but I am still reading and pondering and (with this morning's onion and tomato chores) now cutting while pondering! I never thought so much about how my knife touched the board, or about the outcome.

It was not a rant at all. If it was, thank you so dearly for bringing it here.

One humorous note. After finding this forum, I started revising my knife collection. I watched every video. In some of the performances I was a little stunned at the loud staccato bangs of the cuts and actually found myself wondering if an audio version of photoshop had been applied to enhance the sound!

I owe you a fuller response, but I wanted to start with a huge thanks.

The other debate (refined/rustic) is great fun to read. For me, it comes down to the dish. 95% of the time, for the sake of cooking and presentation uniformity, I lean toward physical uniformity. Not that I always achieve it. Sometimes a rustic casualness can be a delight--when it is purposeful. I think of terrines which derive character from a mix of the refined and the coarse cuts.

Thanks to everyone who has been participating. Please keep talking--the thoughts and the debates are a joy.


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 Post subject: Re: JK knife skills--talk to me!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:29 pm 

Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 3:29 pm
Posts: 129
Another note for salemj--

Thanks for the post about the physics of cutting. I am one inch shorter than you and share some of the same "adjustments." It is particularly tough when working with my beloved Boardsmith board--two inches plus a little more for the feet. Once or twice I have actually been tempted to stand on a box...


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