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Chef talk: How to perfect your knife skills

June 19, 2013 12:42 IST

Chef talk: How to perfect your knife skills

Indulekha Aravind, Business Standard

Executive chef and entrepreneur Manu Chandra, who is at the helm of affairs at fine-dines Olive Beach and Likethatonly and gastropub Monkey Bar in Bangalore, started cooking when he was in his early teens.

32-year-old Chandra, an alumnus of St Stephen's College, Delhi, and the Culinary Institute of America, New York, tells Indulekha Aravind that the first thing you need to get your hands on if you're planning to start cooking is a
good knife.

What are the essential tools for your job?

Patience. I have so many chefs who are impatient. Along with the perception that being a chef is now 'cool', people also want to move up the ranks incredibly fast, though historically it's been a profession where you don't.

In this trade, you're only as good as your last dish, so you need to be on top of your game every day. Discipline is also very important.

Which are the knives you prefer?

The Misono UX10, which I bought while I was training in New York and have now had for 12 years. This was the knife everybody wanted and it cost $300-400 those days, when my salary was next to nothing. It has a phenomenal balance, it's a great blade and it has a full tang (meaning the blade extends all the way to the handle).

I also use a Misono 440 and a Global. The Misono 440 is slightly heavier and the steel is not as superior as the UX10 so it's the workhorse. I prefer Japanese knives, as they tend to have a better balance.

And your fancy gear?

I have a Masamoto, which costs around Rs 70,000. The family that makes it also makes samurai swords. It's a sashimi knife, so I don't use it often. I also have a limited edition Kramer by Shun, which I picked up at an auction in San Francisco for $1,200-1,400. My friends told me I was crazy to buy it.

What would you recommend for someone who'd like to venture into fancy cooking?

Start with a good knife. Even a Victorinox, which is available in most places, would do. Or a Wusthof or Henckel , which I know are available in Mumbai. They should learn to use a knife properly and then start dabbling in the fancy stuff.

When I was just back from New York and used to be invited to people's houses for dinner, the first thing they would do was show off their fancy knife -- and you wouldn't believe how trashy it was.

Either that or they would have those five knives stuck in a wooden block that they would have picked up in a supermarket -- those knives can't cut anything, they just look pretty.

What should you look for when you buy a knife?

Good balance, and a good heavy blade. It should feel right in your hand.

A good knife isn't going to be cheap but it's worth investing in because it'll make your life in the kitchen easier. And if you can spend Rs 2,500 on a pizza when you're on holiday in Italy, you can spend Rs 3,000 on a good knife because that's going to be with you for much longer.

How are you supposed to maintain these fancy knives?

You can get a small sharpening stone, though unfortunately the ones available in India are made with a material called carborundum, which is meant for industrial blades. Buy one from abroad, if you can.

There is also a specific technique to sharpening knives -- the ideal way to do it is like the Japanese, gently. Please don't give it to the guy who comes on a cycle, he will completely destroy it.

Photographs: Andrea Pavanello, Milano/ Creative Commons