At some point in their career, most chefs will have experienced working in less than ideal circumstances. Anything from over-cramped, over-heated kitchens, volatile ego-centric head chefs, over-critical customers and a lack of fresh ingredients can turn an already difficult job into hell on earth — and that’s even before the soup course!
Despite all of these obstacles, if you ask any chef about their biggest kitchen grievance the answer is likely to be unanimous — sub-standard equipment, in particular knives.
To find out more about what makes a good knife — and for expert advice on how to maintain it — catering supplier Russums interviewed five of the leading chefs in the industry.
The Test Kitchen, Danesfield House, Ynyshir Hall, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.
• Adam has received two Michelin stars.
• Named as one of the decade’s ‘Chefs to Watch’ according to the Good Food Guide.
• Great British Menu winner.
St Hubertus (formerly Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano).
• Niederkofler has been awarded two Michelin stars.
• Famous for his ‘Cook the Mountain’ philosophy.
Sergey & Ivan Berezutskiy
Twins, Varvary Restaurant (Moscow), Alinea (Chicago), El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca (Spain).
• Sergey (with Ivan’s help) won the San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year award in 2014.
• Twins has been named in the Diners Club World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy.
Quo Vadis, Blueprint Café, Frith Street Restaurant and Euphorium.
• Jeremy has appeared on the Great British Menu.
• Shortlisted for a Glenfiddich food writing award for his work with The Guardian.
Choosing the perfect knife
A good quality, well maintained knife is every chef’s secret weapon, enabling them to get the best out of any ingredient, effectively, efficiently and of course safely. For some chefs, finding the perfect knife can be a matter of trial and error, whereas others may find their ‘knife for life’ right at the beginning of their career.
There are thousands of knives available on the market and knowing where to start can sometimes feel like a bit of a minefield. There are several things to think about when selecting a knife: price is often the first factor, then material, weight, quality, brand and even the country where the knife is made.
Here the chefs offer their advice on selecting the perfect knife:
Knives by material
Sergey and Ivan Berezutskiy maintain that material is irrelevant if you don’t give a knife the right care and attention:
“We personally prefer wooden handles but in general it doesn’t matter which knife you have as long as it is a professional knife and you look after it well. We can deliberate for a long time about steel and best materials, but even a knife made from the best steel will not be in its prime condition for long if you don’t love it and look after it.”
Knives by style
Knife styles can vary enormously according to the country in which the knife is made. Western (namely German) and Japanese knives are very popular for professional use, with many chefs expressing a strong preference over one or the other.
Adam Simmonds currently favours Japanese knives:
“I am currently using Japanese knives, from the Japanese knife company. I prefer these knives as they have good balance and weight.”
Norbert Niederkofler also chooses to work with Japanese knives, both at home and professionally:
“For general use I use Global knives. They are very simple to handle and the brand has some very good knives for working fish. It also has complete ranges with special edges for different cuts. For personal use I use handmade Japanese knives. These are pieces of art and the edge made for the left-hander is also very important for me”.
Regularly taking time to sharpen knives undoubtedly improves the performance of the blade and will prolong the knife’s life. How often you choose to sharpen knives is a personal choice, as Adam Simmonds and Norbert Niederkofler explain:
Adam: “I use a wet stone once a week, and I sharpen them on a steel before every use.”
Norbert: “I sharpen the Japanese knives with a stone every time I use them.”
Finding a knife that fits
No matter how well recommended a knife may be, it has to fit nicely into the hand and be comfortable to use. Adam Simmonds suggests finding a knife that ‘feels right’ and is the correct weight to suit the individual chef:
“For me the weight of the knife is massively important, it needs to be equally balanced, so that you can get the perfect feel for the knife.”
Jeremy Lee concludes by talking about how he considers knife buying to be a very personal experience:
“Knives are most personal and each should find their own way. Buy one good knife at a time as they last well. It is a riotous cost…a well-filled knife wallet. But such a pleasure. It is a joy watching chefs whizz through their preparations with a finely honed blade. A good knife is a good thing. A blunt knife is not.”