By Adam Weiner
Chef Weiner completes his valuable student-handout series on purchasing and properly handling and caring for knives.
The articles for the last three months were written in a handout format for your students on how to buy knives/how knives are made, how to hone and sharpen knives and an introduction on how to use knives. This month’s article, again in a form to give out to your students, is about knife safety and care.
A. Knife Safety
1. If you can’t talk and look at your fingers at the same time, then shut up. We are all taught the importance of eye contact when talking with someone. However, if you must make eye contact when you talk, then put the knife down. Down means you lay it down and take your hand off it completely. However, unless you are talking with your boss, the boss will come by and tell you to stop talking and get back to work--which means looking at your fingers and knife.
2. When you are not using your knife, put it on the board correctly. There are only two places for a knife to go on a board: 1) On top of the board laying in the same direction as the board; or 2) on the side of the board with the bottom of the knife in the same direction on the board on the right side if you are right handed, on the left if you are left handed. You do this so you always know where the knife is located. Don’t put the knife under the board or in the middle of the board (since it will get covered up with food, bowls, hotel pans, etc.). Whatever you do, remember what your mother taught you: NEVER leave knife handle’s hanging over the end of the table.
3. If you drop a knife, don’t try to catch it. Believe it or not, many people do try, it hurts a lot when you catch it.
4. Use the right knife for the job. A bread knife is for bread, a carving knife is for carving, etc.
5. Never pass a knife to someone else. Never take a knife from someone else’s hands. The right way to pass a knife is to put it on a table and have the next person pick it up.
6. Only have on the cutting board what you are cutting and the knife. Don’t have other mise en place items, containers, other food product, etc. on the board.
7. Always say “KNIFE” when walking behind someone so they know where you are and not to bump into you.
8. Always carry your knife by the handle, pointing down, blade facing backwards on your right-hand side if you are right-handed; on your left-hand side if you are left-handed. If you do this, and someone bumps into you and causes you to drop the knife, then it will probably fall harmlessly between or alongside the two of you.
9. When done with a knife, don’t just put it down on the dishwashing counter. Ask the dishwasher or the kitchen manager where knives go. Well-run kitchens will have a special container at the dish station for knives.
B. Washing Knives and Storing Knives
Most chefs will never put their good knives in a dishwasher. The heat and chemicals quickly take the edge off the blade and ruin many types of handles. You should wash your knives by hand. The safest way to do this is to rinse the knife, hold the knife by the handle and place the blade on a counter. Using a brush with a handle, scrub one side of the knife, turn it over and scrub the other side. Rinse the blade and the handle. Never hold the knife by the blades.
Let the knife air-dry.
Knives need to be stored so the blades don’t touch each other, other kitchen items or your fingers. The three best ways to do this are to:
1. Have a knife holder on the wall. One option is a magnetic holder. It is preferred by many health departments because, unlike a knife block or case on the wall, the magnetic holder can be easily cleaned.
2. Put knife guards on the knives and store them in a drawer. Knife guards are plastic holders that slip over the sharp end of the knife. They are very inexpensive. (They are cheaper than a box of band aids, if you catch my drift.) There are several types. My favorite is the magnetic knife guard because when you carry the knife or travel with your knives, it doesn’t come off. The magnetic ones open up all the way for easy cleaning if needed.
3. Store the knives in a knife kit or bag. However, even if you use a bag, I STRONGLY recommend that you use knife guards, as well.
ALWAYS MAKE SURE THE KNIFE IS DRY BEFORE PUTTING IT IN A GUARD. Let it air-dry first—don’t dry it with a towel or your apron, for safety and sanitation reasons
In summary, knives are your primary tools in the kitchen. Treat them well, use them well and clean and store them well. They will last you a long time and be your best friends in the kitchen.
Chef Adam Weiner teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain and the Sequoia Adult School on the San Francisco Peninsula.