Perhaps more than anything else, usable knives are the essential cooking tool; gleaming blades used in breaking down ingredients, animal, vegetable, or mineral. Every recipe requires you to slice, chop, or dice the ingredients. A good knife is essential.

Don’t be swayed by sexy ads for expensive German or Japanese or ceramic knives. Will they work? Of course they will and very well at that. Are they required? Absolutely not. Visit the prep line in a busy restaurant. They are far more likely to be using good quality yet inexpensive knives rather than German steel. If you visit a restaurant supply house, in addition to the fancy blades, you’ll easily find more affordable knives that will work just as well. Don’t let your ego get in front of your wallet!

My own kitchen, however, is stocked with a few German steel treasures: my favorite knife is a 6” chef knife from Henkel.

Oh, I can hear the howling now …. You hypocrite! Name brand German steel! Let me assure you:

1) I use this knife every day. It is almost as useful to me as my eyeglasses.
2) I obtained it in Germany before the advent of the Euro. I paid less than 50% of what it would have cost me here in the Chicago area.
3) The way it fits my hand is so far the best I have ever experienced.
4) I didn’t have this blade until I was in my forties.

I have three 6” chef knives, the Henkel, one from Chicago Cutlery, and one inexpensive Japanese blade. Could I live without the Henkel? You bet, but it makes the job of breaking things down easier, faster and more comfortable. Hard to argue with that!










The Henkel is my work horse. It’s great for breaking down vegetables. The Chicago Cutlery blade is much thinner and lighter and I use it when the Henkel is dirty or the material being prepared doesn’t require much muscle. I wouldn’t use it to break down a winter squash for example. The jury is still out on the Japanese blade. In terms of weight it is between the Henkel and the Chicago Cutlery. I need to use it more before I can make an objective recommendation. I purchased it because it was on sale and I thought I could try it out without breaking the bank.

I have two slicers, again Henkel and Chicago Cutlery.










The scalloped blade is great for slicing bread or cooked meats. This Henkel was a gift so please, no squawking. There is a myriad of other knives for specific purposes — boning knives, filet knives, cleavers — but unless you do a lot of prep work requiring their unique characteristics, there is no good reason to invest in them.

I also have a small 3” paring knife that I use for small vegetable or peeling work.










I use the knives I’ve just discussed for all my preparation and finishing needs.










Keep your knives sharp. It’s an old axiom, “A sharp knife is a safe knife.” It’s true. A sharp knife will cut and bite into the material you are working on. A dull blade is more likely to roll or slip and thereby cause an accident.

I use an inexpensive knife sharpener and a straightening steel. I’m no expert at whipping the blade across the steel rod, but I make sure to keep my blades sharp. So should you. I’ll show you how to sharpen in a subsequent chapter, and introduce you to basic knife technique.

Eat Well!

David P. Offutt
The Gastronomic Gardener