Regardless of what area of the cooking field you’re looking to get into, one thing is fairly certain — you’ll need quality knives. The majority of food prep you do will ultimately require some form of chopping, slicing or dicing so take this advice at face value: make an investment in your success and start off with a proper set of tools.
What kind of knives should I have in my kitchen?
At the bare minimum, you’ll want at least three or four different types of knives:
- An 8″ or 10″ chef’s knife will be your workhorse for most of your cutting.
- A 4″ paring knife for working with vegetables or where more precision is required.
- An 8″ serrated bread knife for helping out with larger fruits, such as melons.
- A 6″ utility knife for general cutting purposes.
What brand should I buy?
No one can really tell you this. Much like tennis or baseball, people find a racket or bat that just “works” for them. It’s very much the same for knives. There are many different weights, feels and balances depending on whether you go with German or Japanese style knives; but the best thing you can really do is go to your local kitchenwares store and ask to hold the knife — it’s alright, they’re used to this. A few things you want to ask yourself:
- Does it fit in my hand comfortably?
- How does it feel in my hand?
- Is it balanced at a point that would work best for me?
- Is it in my price point?
When I was looking at knives, I limited myself to testing only the chef’s knives, since I knew I’d be using those the most. If you’re looking for recommendations on an actual manufacturer, on the high end, you have companies such as Henckels, Wusthof and Shun. At a more reasonable price point, you have Chef’s Choice. Browse their websites, read about the different lines of knives they have and handle as many as you can before you actually make your purchase.
How much am I going to spend?
For a good Chef’s Knife, you can expect to pay in excess of $100, understanding that, as long as you take care of it, the blade can last a lifetime. Bear in mind that, once you start buying more than a couple of knives, you can often times find them in sets that would be substantially cheaper than if you were to buy them individually.
I wound up purchasing a 9-piece Henckels “Pure” set from Williams-Sonoma. It included an 8″ chef’s, 8″ bread, 6″ utility, 5″ serrated utility, 6″ santoku, 4″ paring, kitchen shears, honing steel and a bamboo block. It retailed for $450… were I to buy each knife individually, I probably would’ve paid closer to $750-$900.
Make sure you ask about discounts — often times, stores will offer a discount to people who are in the cooking industry or who are culinary students or instructors. Bring in a copy of your schedule or hit the store in your whites and ask. My Williams-Sonoma offered a 20% discount to me, bringing that $450 down to $370.
Any other suggestions?
If you’re going to culinary school, ask your friends or instructors if you could handle their knives — grab a bag of carrots or potatoes and go to town. The last thing you want to do is make a major investment and be left feeling uncomfortable using them — make an informed and educated purchase.