“One of the best things about being in this profession is that I’ve eaten really great food for most of my life,” he says. “I tell my students, even if you decide this isn’t the industry for you, you will still have the skills to not just feed yourself, but feed yourself well.”
One basic skill everyone should know: How to use a knife. James shows us the go-to knives in his kitchen toolbox.
This slicer’s Granton edge makes it perfect for working with proteins. Use it for slicing roasts and fish, or even bread.
This 10” Mercer chef’s knife is made in America, but boasts a Japanese edge with a bit of a curve to it. “That helps it rock and move really nicely,” James explains. “I test drove this one for awhile and I’ve been using it ever since. It’s a mid-grade knife so you’re looking at about $100.”
From the hammered Damascus steel blade to the high-end handle material, this Japanese knife is the top-of-the-line model that James recommends “if you really want to do something nice for yourself, and you have the skill level to use it.” High-quality knives like this have a full tang, meaning the blade is one solid piece of metal that runs through the handle. You can spot them by the line of metal running down the edge of the handle and the rivets in the handle that make this knife one solid kitchen tool.
James found this antique gem in his attic and added it to his tool collection. “It can stay wet for a long period of time and this is high carbon steel so it sharpens really well.”
This Victorinox Forschner knife boasts a wooden handle that doesn’t get slippery when you start getting messy and cutting up meat carcasses. “It has a nice, thick blade, but I can still get in there and do what I need to do without it being cumbersome. Some knives like this can be extra wide and trying to work around bones gets to be a little difficult,” James says.
This peeler knife, also known as a tourne knife, is for peeling vegetables or dvoing specialty cutting to create garnishes or pretty food art. “I don’t use this one that often,” James admits. “I usually default back to my regular knife.”
Every chef needs a good 8” knife in their stock. James likes this one from Swiss brand Victorinox which costs about $35. “It has a thin blade with a really nice shape and a nice, non-slip handle. For the money, the quality is really nice.”
James says he likes the size of this slicer because it works for many different applications. He adds that although this knife is inexpensive, it’s still stainless steel so he doesn’t have to “baby” it.
The thin blade on this Mercer paring knife makes it ideal for doing delicate work.
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Steps to the Perfect Cut
Step 1: Take the Right Stance
If you stand directly parallel to your work surface, you’re hands aren’t going to be in the proper position. Your thumb will most likely be sticking out, just begging to get cut off. Instead, James recommends putting one foot forward and coming at your work surface at about a 30 degree angle. It doesn’t matter if it’s your left or right foot, as long as it’s comfortable for you. “If you make the claw (see Step 3) and drop it down on to your surface in this stance, your hand will automatically fall in the right position,” James says.
Step 2: Hold the Knife Correctly
In most instances, James teaches his students the pinch grip. Pinch the knife between thumb and forefinger right at the edge of the handle. Make sure your thumb is on top and fingers are curled under the handle. “A lot of people try to stretch their finger out across the top of the knife. That’s going to make you wobbly and leave you with no control. Plus, you’re arm is going to get fatigued within minutes,” James explains.
Step 3: Know What to Do with Your Other Hand
“Make a claw with your hand, like you’re going to chase your little sister around or something,” James says. “Then drop that claw right down on the cutting service to hold whatever you’re cutting. Now you can work all day long without worrying about cutting yourself. It’s when a finger is flat on the board that it gets in the way.”
The pinch grip:
Pinch the knife between thumb and forefinger right at the top edge of the handle.