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A Guide to Chef's Knives

15 Feb 2016

Chef in restaurant kitchen preparing food

Chef in restaurant kitchen preparing food

Like an accountant without a calculator or a brickie with no bricks, you won’t be much of a chef unless you have the right tools and the cornerstone of any chef’s kit is their long life companion - the knife. There are THOUSANDS of knives on the market ranging from bargain basement to absolute luxe (the Yoshihiro Mizuyaki Honyaki comes in at a rather spicy $5,000 - probably not one to toss in the dishwasher) so when you have decided which knives you are going to get, you then need to decide your price range. Ideally, forged steel knives are the ones to go for, especially for longevity – as with most things in life, you pay fore what you get so spending a little more on forged steel and with the right care, these knives will see you through the next few decades. Here’s a look at some essential knives for your kit and some nice-to-haves.

ESSENTIALS

Chef’s or Cook’s Knife

This is the number one knife that you’re going to need. It will get you through almost any situation in a commercial kitchen (or domestic kitchen for that matter). Your chef’s knife will chop through fruits and vegetables with the power of a bulldozer and the grace of a ballerina and make you look a million bucks whilst you’re doing it. A chef’s knife tapers towards the end ensuring that you have plenty of power through the wrist even when finely dicing with the narrow point. Out of all your knives, be sure to spend time and pick an excellent one when choosing your chef’s knife.

Paring Knife

For those jobs when the might of the chef’s knife is just too great, you’re going to need a paring knife. Similar in shape to a chef’s knife, only smaller; a paring knife is essential for intricate work in the kitchen and is a good all rounder. For those days when you’re out the back peeling 6,000 onions – the paring knife will be your best friend.

Boning Knife

Unless you are planning on only working in vegan establishments your whole entire career, a boning knife is another essential for your kit. As the name suggests, these knives will enable you to make clean cuts of meat and fish from around bones. They have a narrow blade and are easy to handle. A curved boning knife is a good all rounder when it comes to anything meat.

Filleting Knife

Ah, the delicate filleting knife - delicate becaise look at what its working with; the fine flesh of fish. Your average fish has many fine bones and cartliage and the master for this job is the filleting knife; narrow, flexible sturdy to get into all the tiny nooks and crannies. It's natural partner in your kit is a pair of fish bone tweezers but these are on the desirable list - a filleting knife will get you through any fish situation.

Bread Knife

Try this experiment – take one crusty loaf of bread and any non-serrated knife. Now slice through bread – it’s a mess, right! This is why you need a bread knife in your kit. The serrated edge will make slicing a breeze without reducing your loaf to the thickness of a newspaper. On the other hand, never use your bread knife to cut meats, fish or soft fruit and vegetables as the serrate will destroy any fine flesh.

DESIRABLES

Cleaver

When faced with a mountain of chicken wings that you need to make into winglettes or a mighty big crab, a cleaver will do the job. The wide blade and chunky handle makes light work of anything that would normally be difficult to crack.

Utility Knife

Although the name suggests an all rounder – and there’s no doubt that that’s exactly what it is – most jobs can be done with a chef’s or a paring. The utility knife is in-between these in stealth and function and most definitely a desirable in your kit.

Carving Knife

Carving knifes are about the same length as a chefs knife but with a much narrower blade, allowing the steel to precisely carve roast meats. Usually accompanied by a matching two-pronged fork and that all important member of your knife kit, your sharpening steel.

Santoku

The Japanese version of the Western chef’s knife, only more delicate but none less a demon in the kitchen. The blade is straighter than a Western chef’s knife and therefore doesn’t allow that chopping board rocking action – not without practice at least. Japanese knives usually come with a ‘Granton’ edge, divots in the knife to eliminate the natural suction between steel and foodstuffs. Apart from supreme functionality, Japanese knives are stunning to look at, most definitely a desirable. There you have it, a quick guide to knives that you'll need when you enrol in one of our Commercial Cookery Courses here at Melbourne Polytechnic. What's your favourite kitchen knife?