Kitchen knives are the tools of the culinary trade. Transforming basic ingredients into a gourmet meal becomes easier with the right cutlery. Chef Clayton Chapman gave us some insight into selecting and using the right knives for kitchen tasks. Nominated for the James Beard Award of “Rising Star Chef of the Year” in 2011 and 2012, Chapman was also highlighted by Cooking Light Magazine as one of the nation’s seven “Trailblazing Chefs” in 2011.
Meet Chef Clayton Chapman
Chapman’s knives are the workhorses in the kitchen of his restaurant, The Grey Plume, located in Omaha, NE. The Grey Plume has quickly become renowned since its opening in 2010 for its impeccably flavored, locally-sourced fare. Recipient of the Green Restaurant Association’s highest rating for sustainable practices, the Grey Plume is known for exemplary culinary methods, from their hand-churned butter made from local milk to the fair-trade coffee that is roasted on premises.
Chapman developed his singular approach to cuisine from his classic culinary training at the Illinois Institute of Art and his work at Tru restaurant in Chicago to his stint as head chef at V. Mertz in Omaha at the age of 21.
Chef Chapman took the time to answer some of our questions about styles, materials, storage, and kitchen applications of high-quality cutlery.
I think like any craft, it is extremely important to take care of your tools. They are your lifeline so to speak….if you take care of them, they will in-turn, help you accomplish what you need to do.
I think it is important to have all of the right knives for their proper applications. This includes a basic set of a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. I think a few easy additions to add to these would be a utility knife and a slicer.
I think the most versatile knife is my chef’s knife; it has the ability to do many large and smaller projects as well. I use a series of different kinds of knives for different applications. I use a chef’s knife for a lot of utility applications but always have a smaller paring knife close by for the smaller details.
There are several different types of materials to choose from when purchasing knives. I always appreciate a knife blade made from strong steel, but is not too thick so it is easy to sharpen.
I often feel that you get what you pay for when purchasing cutlery. I think it is important to invest a little bit of money into a quality knife that you can maintain the edge on and use for a number of years. I still use my Wusthof cleaver that I have had for 10 years.
I would recommend using a plastic or wooden knife sheath if storing them flat inside a drawer or a case if you travel with them regularly. If you purchase a knife set and they are a permanent fixture in the kitchen, a wooden block is a great storage vessel; this is what I use at home.
I would definitely wash your knives before use, but they do not need to be seasoned like a cast iron skillet. A good rule of thumb is to never put a knife away wet, as some of the different types of metals can form rust.
Yes, absolutely. As beautiful as they are, I would stray away from marble and glass/fiberglass cutting boards at home; they simply are not good for the edge of your knife. I would recommend either a wood board as long as you maintain it (rubbing in neutral cooking oil as the surface of the wood dries out) or a rubber cutting board. We use the rubber boards at the restaurant and they are wonderful. Every so often, we sand them to re-finish and they are like new.
During butchery, there are specific knives for different applications. I think having a flexible boning knife can be multi-functional when it comes to fabricating fish, chicken and red meat though. I would recommend a 6″ or slightly larger flexible boning knife. If you are interested in having multiple boning knives, I would also have a 12″ or so, very flexible fish fillet knife. This will allow you to skin larger sides of fish, should you choose to do so.
Use a sharp knife! If using a sharp knife when carving, the knife should do all of the work for you. Also, try and follow the natural seams and bones of the meat; this will also make the carving process much easier.
Practice, practice, practice!
Knife Styles for Kitchen Cutlery
The chef’s knife is one of the most popular styles for versatility in the kitchen. Available with blades ranging from 6 to 10 inches, it is used for chopping, slicing, and dicing meats and vegetables.
The smallest knife in the kitchen, the blade is usually 3 to 4 inches long with a stout, triangular shape. Use it for detail tasks, peeling and slicing fruits and vegetables, and preparing garnishes.
The serrated edge of the bread knife is designed for cutting both soft breads and those with harder crusts without crushing or destroying the loaf. Even movements of the 8- to 10-inch blade create successful slices.
The 5- to 7-inch blade of the utility knife places it between the paring knife and chef’s knife in terms of size. It is used for similar tasks, like cutting, peeling, chopping, and slicing soft vegetables and fruits.
The blade of a boning knife is very thin, slightly curved, and flexible, measuring about 6 inches long. Its flexibility allows both raw and cooked meat to be separated from the bone.
With a longer and more flexible blade than a boning knife, fillet knives are used to prepare fish and remove skin from fish, meats, fruits and vegetables. The blade is usually 10 to 12 inches long.
A slicing knife is a popular choice for slicing and serving prepared food, including chicken, turkey, pork, beef roasts, and more. It is also useful for cakes, pies, casseroles, and baked desserts. The blade is usually long, between 8 and 10 inches.
The Santoku is a popular chef’s knife from Japan. It is similar to the traditional chef’s knife except it has a wider blade with a distinctive shape; the blade is usually around 7 inches long. Santoku knives are often made of very hard steel, which helps maintain blade sharpness.
The cleaver is used to prepare large cuts of meat, or when butchering through joints or bones. Its wide, heavy blade can be leveraged to cut through hard substances easily. It can also be useful on winter squashes and other challenging cuts.
A honing steel helps to maintain sharp blades, extending their life and making them safer, but it does not actually sharpen knives. When knives get dull, it is recommended to use a whetstone, such as an oilstone or waterstone, to sharpen the blades.
A whetstone is a rectangular stone with varying grit used for sharpening blades by running the blade over the stone. Oilstones and waterstones use oil and water respectively as a lubricant on the whetstone. Many chefs use several stones with graduating grits from coarse to fine to sharpen their knives.