In certain movies, there’s always a bad guy who thwarts a hero or a town from getting what he, she, or they want but, at the end, learns to love that thing for him or herself. For example, I’d like to cite “Footloose” and “Chocolat,” two movies that I’ve seen but totally forgotten. I do remember that Kevin Bacon wants the town to dance and Juliette Binoche wants the town to eat chocolate, but that Kevin Bacon is challenged by John Lithgow who hates dancing and Juliette Binoche is challenged by Alfred Molina who hates chocolate. Suffice it to say, the heroes win out and in my fantasy version of these movies–fantasy versions because I don’t really remember them–John Lithgow, at the end, sees the error of his ways and starts dancing and Alfred Molina gorges himself on chocolate.
I start my post this way, because I feel like the villain of a movie about knives–a movie in which a hero named SuperChef tries to convince the town to use the sharpest knives possible. I am a double villain because I wrote a chapter in my book about knives and keeping them sharp, I even bought a whetstone, but the truth is my knives really aren’t sharp enough. Which is why, the other day, after work at Food Network, I headed downstairs to the Bowery Kitchen to buy the sharpest knife I could. (I’m a pretty easy villain in the grand scheme of things, I cave pretty quickly under knife guilt….)
I’d read that Tom Colicchio (whose mostly self-taught status still astonishes me) bought a Henckels knife at an early age which he still has. I asked the people at Bowery if they had Henckels knives and they said: “No, we carry mostly Wuhstof.”
I have a Wuhstof knife; a huge, 10-incher that I’ve used for tasks as varied as carving a turkey to cracking a coconut. But as much as I’ve sharpened it and honed it on one of those long metal rods, it never quite glides through vegetables the way I want it to. Sure, I can take it in to be sharpened but it’s a little too big for the kitchen tasks I do most often; I needed a handy knife that’d glide effortlessly through an onion, that’d require minimal sharpening and that’d fit snugly in my hand.
“What’s this ceramic knife?” I asked the woman at Bowery.
“It’s really popular,” she said. “And you never have to sharpen it.”
Never have to sharpen it? That sounded like music to my ears. And as I studied it, I recalled seeing Ming Tsai use this knife on his show.
“Can I return it if I don’t like it?”
“You can exchange it,” said the nice woman.
“Deal,” I said, purchasing the knife for an even $86.65 (with tax).
When I got home, I immediately sped over to Key Foods where I snatched ingredients to make a salad. I also bought a chicken breast which I roasted, Barefoot Contessa style, in the oven (rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, roast at 350 for 45 minutes. Perfection!) I made my signature salad dressing: an egg yolk, mustard and red wine vinegar (I was out of balsamic) whisked with salt and pepper, olive oil slowly whisked in, drip by drip until it emulsifies.
Finally, I set to chopping vegetables. I washed and peeled a hothouse cucumber. I laid it on the board and Jacques Pepin style I curled my fingers, making a wall, and took my new ceramic knife which makes me think of Moby Dick because its whiteness somehow makes it MORE threatening than a normal knife, and sliced.
Friends, this is one of the great pleasures of your cooking life: to slice and chop with an extraordinarily sharp knife. It glides in so effortlessly, you almost don’t realize what’s happening. And before you know it, you’re done:
The real test with a knife like this is an onion. According to Julia Child (and most chef experts), to prevent yourself from crying when chopping an onion, you just need a really sharp knife. The reason you cry is that a dull blade sends onion spray into your face, a sharp knife minimizes the spray.
And, sure enough, this ceramic knife penetrated the onion so cleanly, so quickly, that it was chopped before my eyes even had a chance to get misty, let alone cry.
Once all my veggies were chopped (and again, chopping with this knife was such a treat), I cut up the cooled/cooked chicken breast, and tossed everything together with the dressing, serving it all with some La Brea Bakery Olive Bread (which I think you may be able to buy at your grocery store like I can at mine; it seems to be everywhere these days).
Since adopting this ceramic knife, I’ve been blissing over it all week. I chop any and every chance I get. I bought blood oranges the other day for no clear reason and the other night, just because I wanted to, I carved all the skin off and sliced the orange into perfect rounds. This knife is perfect for cutting fruit.
Not so perfect, however, for smashing garlic–a task I attempted to do yesterday when preparing lasagna. Lo and behold, I just read the insert that came with the knife (which is a Kyocera knife, in case you’re curious) and it tells you that this knife is ideal for straight cuts of fruits, vegetables and boneless meats. “Use your conventional steel knives for carving, prying, boning and cutting frozen food and cheese.” It also says: “Avoid turning the blade on its side to smash garlic or other items.”
There you go: a ceramic knife is perfect for cleanly cutting vegetables, but not much else. That’s fine by me: I’d rather have a knife that does a specific task exceptionally well than an all-purpose knife that accomplishes most tasks without any flair. This knife has flair and I love it. My inner John Lithgow/Alfred Molina is vanquished.