Hardcore cooking – Knives. Part 1: The Conundrum

I have a dreadful secret: the voice of my conscience is Anthony Bourdain. Well, maybe not me entire conscience. That would probably be bad for my health and my marriage. Strictly speaking, it's my cooking and cooking persona conscience that gets the Bourdain treatment.

If I'm thinking of chopping up some vegetables in the food processor, I hear, "Julia Child, for example, raised people's expectations of food. When Rachael tells you that it's perfectly O.K. to buy prechopped onion from the supermarket... I mean, how hard is it to chop an onion? The takeaway is, I could cook, but [instead] I'll finish this bag of Cheetos and that gallon of Diet Pepsi before dying of diabetes."

Were Anthony Bourdain to come over to my home during a particularly boring episode of No Reservations, and he watched me cook and ate my food, I would like for him to say to the camera that, while not a professional chef, I at least took it seriously.

I would probably have Julia Child's voice in my mind, but I've seen a lot more Bourdain recently than Child, but the idea is the same: even if I'm not in a professional kitchen, I try to take cooking seriously. I study, I learn, I practice, and I try not to take the easy way out if I can avoid it. Sure, there's some occasional pain, and sometimes I'm slower than I might be, but it's all for the greater good. And I'm sure the food tastes better.

Sometimes the fight between convenience and being hardcore is a close struggle, filled with compromise and bitter recriminations. (That sounds appropriately dramatic.) Such was the case with the choice of what to do about a new chef's knife.

Before starting the research, I was pretty sure that I wanted the Ken Onion Chef's Knife. It's beautiful, from a reputable company, and beautiful. It's also very pretty.

[amtap amazon:asin=B0007IR2MO]

Still, it's pretty expensive, and you don't just want to jump into something like this without preparation. That would be…not serious. So I did some research. Then some more research. Followed by research. Then I realized that the question was bigger than I had realized. Research research research. Ask around. Google. Agonizing. Then, finally, purchase. Well, purchases.

The basic idea was that I wanted The Chef's Knife. I own several chef's knives, and while I tend to favor some over other, I generally treat them as interchangeable pieces based upon, ahem, which one happens to be clean at the time.

I'd decided it was time to settle down with The Chef's Knife, whom I could love and care for properly. So all I'd have to do is pick one and… wait, did I say "care for properly"? Gahhh.

Knife maintenance is an issue that separates the Serious Cook for the enthusiastic amateur. Anthony Bourdain? Sharpens his own knives. At least, he did in culinary school and before, so I'm going to presume that he kept it up. Alton Brown does not, and recommends having a professional do the work. Hmmm. So what to do? Those of you familiar with three paragraphs ago may guess that the answer was "research," and so it was.

How hard is it to sharpen a random knife, really? How expensive are the proper tools? For the knife I end up getting, will it be easier or more difficult than average? Am I a crazy person for even considering it?

Now you know the difficult road that lay ahead of me. Next time, I'll summarize the research, and give a bunch of links to useful resources.