Feature Stories Winter 2011 Issue

Cook’s Toolbox

By Wendy Allen | Photo By Jim Klousia 0

There’s a certain romance surrounding knives. They are one of our first prehistoric tools, and in the European Middle Ages, knives were carried on men’s belts both to be used as a weapon and as an eating utensil before the introduction of forks. (In fact, Louis XIV of France felt so threatened that he declared all pointed tip knives on the street and at the dinner table illegal and had them ground down to blunt points.) Their creation requires extreme attention and an intimate knowledge of metal to acquire just the right hardness and to grind a perfectly straight, sharp edge. They are instruments of violence, yet they can be exquisite works of art, valued by collectors and admired by anyone with an eye for design and a flowing line.

Here at Edible Madison, we often tell the stories of food and the people behind the delicious creations, but we have never talked about the instruments in between. We think it’s time to begin giving a cook’s utensils their due respect for the role they play in creating the recipes found within our pages. The knife is a crucial link between the cook and the food placed in front of us; it is quite literally the extension that allows a cook to translate raw ingredients into nourishment—both for the body and the soul. 

The Cooks and Their Knives
Three and a half years into his undergraduate studies, Dan Fox realized he was baking pies instead of studying for tests. “I’d get stressed out and want to cook, so I decided that this was what I needed to do with my life.” Now, as executive chef and assistant general manager of The Madison Club, he remembers, “We always had nice knives around when cooking with my father, and when I went to college, I got his hand-me-downs. My first knife was an 11-inch German Wusthof chef ’s knife. I named it Cecelia.

“The chef ’s knife is the number one tool in the kitchen,” he continues. “Even home cooks need to find one that fits their personality; otherwise the process can’t even begin.”

For a professional, part of the attachment to his or her knives has to do with the hard work required to afford a good knife selection and the time spent using and caring for them. That time and care, Dan says, often has a direct correlation to a cook’s connection with food and his or her attention to detail. “When a young chef comes in to interview with me, the knives they bring in definitely represent the kind of chef they are.”

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