Favorite Things: My Chef’s Knife
In Sitto’s little galley kitchen in her apartment in Lansing, there were predictable things: the yellow phone, the tall stool with a soft seat and back, the miniature gardening set with frogs painted on it hanging on the wall. And her chef’s knife. Sitto’s knife was never, not ever placed in the drawer but instead leaned against the side of her sink. Here it was always rinsed and placed so it would be within reach at all times. Sitto used her knife so frequently that it made no sense to put it in the drawer only to take it out minutes later.
The presence of the knife, like Sitto herself, was dependable. Always going to be there, sink-side, ready to go when you need her. But that knife was so dull it made even simple jobs a serious task. I remember Sitto trying to cut open a cantaloupe and her breath heavy at the challenge of it all. And I remember her calling me over, once I was old and tall enough, to make the cuts in her baklawa for her. Such pressure, with her standing over me and telling me, in a loving scold, to push down harder, to cut, to cut, and to cut some more.
I find that I keep my trusty chef’s knife at the ready too, perched on the side of the sink, usually with a just-rinsed look about it. Perhaps that’s in hopes that I will become more like the knife, more like Sitto, always ready to get the job done. We use our big knives for all sorts of work, from slicing through racks of lamb like butter which we’ll do for Easter, and feeling so satisfied when we do, to chopping a good handful of mint leaves down to a beautiful mince, releasing the headiest herbal scent of them all.
But unlike Sitto, I keep my knife razor-sharp. I do use the honing rod to realign the edge, but this is not to be mistaken for sharpening. Sharpening is a different deal altogether, and takes all knife-work to higher, and easier, ground. Of course, this means one has to be ready to take a few war wounds like I did throughout cooking school and especially on the day of my final practical exam, but the nicks and cuts are worth it to be able to cut through anything with ease. If you don’t have one 10-inch chef’s knife in your repertoire, discover it, and you’ll wonder how you got along before. Mine (well, it does belong to the sister, but she loaned it to me when I went off to San Francisco and hasn’t once inquired after it, because that’s just the way she is) is Wusthof, but I have several Shun knives and consider those my all-time favorite for the perfect balance of weight in the handle, as well as the special rounded shape, which fits perfectly in my paw.
I’ll never forget the first time I cut raw meat or baklawa with a truly sharp knife and realized that cutting with Sitto’s dull knife all those years was something not far from cruel. But then those tough cuts were like tough love, and now that I have my very sharp, big chef’s knife, I have the appreciation of one who has gone without.
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I would love to take a course on knife skills someday…
That’s the best course to take, a game changer!! Do it!!
Yes, Maureen, one more time, right on the button! My mother’s knife had been her mother’s knife–and by the time I was just ten years old, it was just HALF the width of the original as it had been sharpened so many times over at least that half century! But my mother used it for making diamond cuts in baklawa and kibbee sineeas (spelling) and for cutting a leg of lamb into kabobs and pieces for grinding for kibbee. She used it until she could no longer use it functionally, but she did not throw it away. It stayed in her ‘utility’ knife drawer always. I can see that open drawer right now with all the knives in it in a haphazard manner–you just had to search, but basically everything was almost always in the same place, so it was not a hardship. Thank you again Maureen, for these beautiful memories. Your words always fill my heart.
I love the thought of the knife sharpened so much it practically disappeared!!! We do get attached to our knives, don’t we?! Thank you for your words Diane!
I have a very dull Wusthof on my counter right now and every time I use it I regret not sharpening it. My dad gave me sharpening lessons, and a Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker, Model 204 (I’m getting specific for your amusement…and mine). One of my proudest moments came a year after my lesson, when I demonstrated my sharpening strokes and he said I was doing it right. My parents’ knives are always in pristine condition, and when I leave a dirty one on the counter, unrinsed, with garlic stuck on it, my mom yells through the house, “Knife Skills 101, Cindy!” And then she says, “I bet Maureen wouldn’t leave a dirty knife on the counter!” Your name is mentioned quite frequently in the Hunter kitchen.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!! You are such a funny girl!!
Maureen, As always a wonderful well written story, I didn’t know either one of my Sitto’s, but i remember my mother’s knive’s. I keep a well sharpend Wuestof for the same use’s. This story did bring a tear to my eye though.
Very enjoyable post. I couldn’t agree with you more in regards to keeping one’s blades razor sharp. I was amazed a the difference when I sharpened my blades for the first time in years. Not only is sharp blade much easier to use, but it’s much safer too. I guess most people don’t realize that.
Love your photos too. Do you take them yourself?
How nice Jason, thank you! Yes, I have the pleasure of taking all of my own photos, and I’m happy to know you enjoy them!
Ok, so I have a honing rod, what would constitute truly sharpening?
Those look like awesome knives. I have one favorite knife, not because it does such a great job cutting but I like the way it feels in my hand so you are spot on with that point. It really does not do a great job, maybe it is time to get a new favorite knofe.
Thank you Jenifar–get your knife sharpened and it should be good as new!