• Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

David Hensley

Have you noticed lack of knife skills among media chefs?

82 posts in this topic

I wouldn't say you're alone, just a different audience than most of the shows being mentioned are targeting. The majority audience for most of the cooks/chefs being referred to here don't really care so there's no reason for the cooks/chefs doing the shows to spend time teaching or worrying over it.

As far as the cooks go, setting can matter as well. A cook doing the entire menu alone trying to turn 60 seats at lunch so that a second crowd can get in may be willing to live with knife work that looks a little different than it would if that same person was doing it for a catering job or in a fine dining setting with a brigade and 3 hour seatings. Sometimes people just want to have a good meal and get back to whatever they're doing and aren't measuring things or lining them up to compare cuts. Of course I'm talking about minor discrepancies here, not carrot slices that range from 1/8" - 3/4" that would lead to problems cooking them evenly.

1 person likes this

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Agreed, Tri2Cook. It's one of the reasons I don't watch any cooking shows other than Chopped now and again.

I remember when they tried to teach you to cook properly. Not in 30 minutes or for $10. Time hasn't compressed since the 70s.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wasn't RR's initial schtick that she wasn't a big shot, well-trained chef? She was just a real person cooking real food, or some BS like that.

My gut feelings echo many above - who in this day & age cares about uniform pieces? I think flavor has become the bottom line criterion. As to mashing up a fish or piece of meat in an attempt to debone or the like that of course is horrid.

For something simple like a chicken vegetable soup, size uniformity plays as big a role as flavour does. If the vegetables look like they were thrown in a food processor, then they probably were.

For knife skills in regards to simple butchery

As a Chef and owner, if I get a case of whole chickens in, I know that:

1) the price per kg/lb whole chicken is cheaper than pre-fabricated

2)I can get the level of trim I want

3)I can generate enough trim to make stocks

4)I can generate "schmaltz" or chicken fat

5)Even with my labour calculated at $15/hr, I can still fabricate my chicken parts cheaper than ordering pre-fabricated parts

Same goes with fish, and for primal cuts cuts of beef or pork

4 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't care who I'm cooking for, even if it's just me, I want it to look and taste good.

I peel my broccoli and asparagus, too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wasn't RR's initial schtick that she wasn't a big shot, well-trained chef? She was just a real person cooking real food, or some BS like that.

My gut feelings echo many above - who in this day & age cares about uniform pieces? I think flavor has become the bottom line criterion. As to mashing up a fish or piece of meat in an attempt to debone or the like that of course is horrid.

For something simple like a chicken vegetable soup, size uniformity plays as big a role as flavour does. If the vegetables look like they were thrown in a food processor, then they probably were.

For knife skills in regards to simple butchery

As a Chef and owner, if I get a case of whole chickens in, I know that:

1) the price per kg/lb whole chicken is cheaper than pre-fabricated

2)I can get the level of trim I want

3)I can generate enough trim to make stocks

4)I can generate "schmaltz" or chicken fat

5)Even with my labour calculated at $15/hr, I can still fabricate my chicken parts cheaper than ordering pre-fabricated parts

Same goes with fish, and for primal cuts cuts of beef or pork

Thank you!

I totally agree!

2 people like this

~Martin

Unsupervised rebellious radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, self-reliant homesteader and adventurous cook. Crotchety cantankerous terse curmudgeon, nonconformist, contrarian and natural born skeptic who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it! 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think there's a big difference between what's required or desirable or economical in a restaurant, and what is considered suitable for a TV show, though. At least in the UK, many people are not able to make a cake or pasta sauce from scratch, and live off food from packets. There's a whole infestation of new supermarkets that contain nothing but food in packets, including ready-cut fruit and vegetables in microwave-safe plastic dishes.

Those people aspire to eating exotic food but do not want the hassle of chopping it up. If you show them a chef boning out a chicken or cutting potatoes into matchsticks they'll just think This fancy-pants show-off is wasting my time with his know-it-all food tricks; it would alienate most of the audience. They want to see things that are easy and relatable and that they could conceivably recreate at home without too much effort.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think there's a big difference between what's required or desirable or economical in a restaurant, and what is considered suitable for a TV show, though. At least in the UK, many people are not able to make a cake or pasta sauce from scratch, and live off food from packets. There's a whole infestation of new supermarkets that contain nothing but food in packets, including ready-cut fruit and vegetables in microwave-safe plastic dishes.

Those people aspire to eating exotic food but do not want the hassle of chopping it up. If you show them a chef boning out a chicken or cutting potatoes into matchsticks they'll just think This fancy-pants show-off is wasting my time with his know-it-all food tricks; it would alienate most of the audience. They want to see things that are easy and relatable and that they could conceivably recreate at home without too much effort.

Agreed.

The average person thinks cooking is something somebody else does.

Sad thing is that those who can least afford prepared foods are the ones who buy it the most.

And even though RRay can be grating and has questionable choices in clothing, she is getting people to see the kitchen as an approachable place. She's OK by me (even though I can't watch her for long).

3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To me, "good knife skills" means quick and safe. Pretty and even are just byproducts.

I think one reason there's little emphasis on knife skills these days is that "perfect" slices, etc. are easily achievable by machines in the kitchen or at the plant. Fair or not, imperfection has come to signify hand-made, artisanal, and authenticity.

It does bug me when I see slow and unsafe practice from people who are supposed to be teaching others.

2 people like this

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think one reason there's little emphasis on knife skills these days is that "perfect" slices, etc. are easily achievable by machines in the kitchen or at the plant. Fair or not, imperfection has come to signify hand-made, artisanal, and authenticity.

I have trouble understanding this.

For a residential kitchen, yes, you can purchase ready-cut vegetables, but they are much more expensive compared to whole vegetables/fruit, generate extra packaging, and have quality issues. Chopped garlic in a jar, anyone? And while there are machines to prep food (food processor comes to mind) I find more time is spent assembling,dissasembling and cleaning such machines then would be spent preparing the same item with a chef's knife. Even at home it makes much more financial sense to buy bone-in chicken breasts and take the bone out myself then it would be to buy boneless chicken breasts. Whole salmon, head on, is much cheaper than buying fillets, even when you calculate the loss of the head, skin, and bones.

For commercial kitchens. I have purchased pre-peeled potatoes and pre-peeled onions, but I cut them myself. I find that pre-cut vegetables suffer quality issues, and while there are better qualities to buy, you have to deal with extra cost and packaging.

4 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oddly enough, I agree with almost all of you.

On RR: I do, indeed, respect the way in which she "came up through the ranks" ; but I cannot watch her show(s) for any reason, because for all of her acquired experience, she just isn't a cook. I could be wrong, but I believe the Furi company made her learn some knife skills, in order to obtain her sponsorship.

Having done several cooking demo's on TV, in my younger years, I never had a director, or anyone else tell me to lessen my knife skills for the camera. In truth, I was frequently congratulated on my ability to make precise cuts, even under time and camera constraints.

Either way, I wasn't originally trying to slam anybody, just trying to satisfy some curiousity. Judging from some of the (short-lived) cooks that I've had through my own kitchen, I still believe that knife skills are on the decline. This makes me sad, because as someone who has worked hard, and fought even harder, for every minor advance in my career, one of the ways that I've shown my abilities is through a nonstop display of every knife technique that I know. Although I do agree that the taste and textures of a given dish generally define their quality for most people, I also know that there are many like me, in that noticing that proper and consistent cuts on every item in a given dish, really do enhance the enjoyment of a nice meal.

I can eat mom's special "hash" whenever I want, but I go out for quality meals, not mom's "hash".

3 people like this

I'm a lifelong professional chef. If that doesn't explain some of my mental and emotional quirks, maybe you should see a doctor, and have some of yours examined...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Exactly, Dave. I want to enjoy the artistry that went into the food when I dine out: beautifully butchered meats, lovely knife cuts, beautiful plating, &c. I despise "rustic" plating and service. It's like getting a chipped glass for your fine wine.

If I wanted less, I could go to a diner or make something "quick and dirty" at home.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I

Exactly, Dave. I want to enjoy the artistry that went into the food when I dine out: beautifully butchered meats, lovely knife cuts, beautiful plating, &c. I despise "rustic" plating and service. It's like getting a chipped glass for your fine wine.

If I wanted less, I could go to a diner or make something "quick and dirty" at home.

X2

But I get totally turned off by the knife skill circus acts performed in a Japanese Hibachi grill. May be I am the only one.

dcarch

3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have trouble understanding this.

Did you watch Saving Private Ryan? Huge-budget movie with big-name director and cast, but the beachstorming scenes are purposely shot to suggest crappy handheld cameras and grainy old film. It tells you that you're watching something real, because this is the style in which we're used to seeing things that are real. Had the whole thing been shot with Steadicam and high-def digital camera, the result would not have been as affecting.

The same principle applies here. John Q. Citizen can get perfectly uniform shoestrings from the frozen foods department at the grocery store. At a nice restaurant, he expects some guy in a funny white hat to slice his potatoes, even if he can't see it for himself. One way to suggest that they're hand-cut in the kitchen rather than scooped out of a bag ready to fry is to cut them "badly." So it's not such an advantage to get them perfect, every single time.

I make no judgement about this. Tastes change and the hospitality industry has to keep up with its customers' preferences, even if it means penalizing people who learned how to do things the "proper" way.

1 person likes this

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dakki, in our one and only "fine dining" restaurant here, they frequently post (terrible) pictures of their food. This food, especially on their lunch menu, is often accompanied by frozen Ore-Ida frozen crinkle fries. I've called them out about those fries at least four times. I don't know if they are hand cutting fries now or they just stopped posting pictures of them.

At the prices they charge, they damned well better find time to cut some fries.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's kind of my point? You can spot that the potatoes have been delivered already cut, and it tells you the restaurant isn't doing its own prep, and you feel that to get your money's worth the kitchen should be cutting the potatoes.

1 person likes this

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, I got what you meant. I was waxing anecdotal.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dakki, in our one and only "fine dining" restaurant here, they frequently post (terrible) pictures of their food. This food, especially on their lunch menu, is often accompanied by frozen Ore-Ida frozen crinkle fries. I've called them out about those fries at least four times. I don't know if they are hand cutting fries now or they just stopped posting pictures of them.

At the prices they charge, they damned well better find time to cut some fries.

Keller uses Sysco fries at Bouchon. Says they are great.

Wonder if he got paid.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have trouble understanding this.

Did you watch Saving Private Ryan? Huge-budget movie with big-name director and cast, but the beachstorming scenes are purposely shot to suggest crappy handheld cameras and grainy old film. It tells you that you're watching something real, because this is the style in which we're used to seeing things that are real. Had the whole thing been shot with Steadicam and high-def digital camera, the result would not have been as affecting.

The same principle applies here. John Q. Citizen can get perfectly uniform shoestrings from the frozen foods department at the grocery store. At a nice restaurant, he expects some guy in a funny white hat to slice his potatoes, even if he can't see it for himself. One way to suggest that they're hand-cut in the kitchen rather than scooped out of a bag ready to fry is to cut them "badly." So it's not such an advantage to get them perfect, every single time.

I make no judgement about this. Tastes change and the hospitality industry has to keep up with its customers' preferences, even if it means penalizing people who learned how to do things the "proper" way.

Still have trouble comprehending, and I haven't even seen the movie.

Look, knife skills are a skill, nothing more, nothing less. I compare it to fixing a flat tire on a bike. From when my kids started to learn how to ride I always fixed their flats, showed them a zillion times how, but they never thought it important. Until the day my daughter got a flat on her bike far away from home, which was also the day I was out of town...

Look, a good artist--a painter, for example, has to master various techniques: Perspective, shadowing, proportions, colours, etc.. If the artist can not master them, their art suffers, but more importantly creativity suffers because they will purposely avoid projects that incorporate techniques they never mastered.

So it is with cooking, knife skills are a skill to be mastered, just as with learning to saute propely, to braise, make a decent pie dough, or bake a decent cake. If I can't dice an onion properly, I can't use diced onions in sauces, soups, meatloaf, or even salsa; I might rely on pre-diced or frozen onions, but these have quality issues. I might go cow-abunga with a knife and a fresh onion, gripping the knife like a club high over the cutting board, like I was splitting firewood and be rewarded with one part onion mush and two parts onion chunks of various sizes.

As a bonus to mastering knife skills, you are able to purchase whole fruits and vegetables and not be limited in your choices becasue they don't come pre-cut, pre-peeled or frozen, you are able to butcher whole birds and fish, and you are not constrained in your creativity because you have mastered the skill.

Face it, cooking is also a skill, a life skill, and mastering a knife is just one small part of the cooking skill, albeit an important one.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can honestly say you're the first person I've talked to who says they haven't seen that movie.

Anyway, fixing a flat tire isn't a good analogy here because even someone completely untrained can cut a bunch of potatoes or what have you. They might do it badly, and they might take all day, and they might even harm themselves, but it'll get done. Nobody is talking about not using knives anymore, we're talking about reasons why knife skills are (apparently) lacking among media chefs. One reason given above is that FN et al. seemingly select their stars for their onscreen personalities rather than any actual skills.

My observation is that the market for cutting a perfect matchstick (or what have you) has probably declined because (a) the finished product is available at an attractive price, thanks to the wonders of mechanization, and (b) people aren't wow-ed by perfect matchsticks anymore; in fact, if it's -too- perfect, they might just assume you're serving them a mass-produced, ready-to-cook (and in the eyes of many, inferior) product.

Now, you'll note that none of this is judgement, just observation. FN is in the business of selling adverts and restaurants are in the business of selling meals. They respond to what the market demands. If the next hot fashion in restaurants is prep in the classical French manner done tableside, you can be sure the trend will reverse.

4 people like this

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree, Dakki, in quite a few ways! Add me to you list of folks who haven't seen the movie, though.

I've also noticed the decline of real knife skills on the FN, and other, independent shows as well. I've noticed that as "chefs" get more money, they seemingly choose to lose knife skill, while they gain media market money, thats all.

Where have all the Jacque Pepins gone, though?

2 people like this

I'm a lifelong professional chef. If that doesn't explain some of my mental and emotional quirks, maybe you should see a doctor, and have some of yours examined...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahhh.. the wonders of mechanization... Well, hand cranked apple peelers have been around since the mid 1800's, rudimentary slicers for the sole purpose of making saurkraut have been around since the 1500's, the mandoline has been around for at least 100 years, and yet, it is only now, and only because FN and others decree that when choosing a Chef (actor/entertainer?)decent knife skills do not matter one bit?

Surely you must have noticed others, like Annabelle posting on this thread that if they are going to an expensive restaurant, they want the knife skills, just as they want the plating/presentation and creativity when they pay for a meal.

I find nothing the matter with some mechanization for food products that are needed in large volumes, as this is pure grunt work. It is far more economical to run a 50 lb sack of onions through a slicing attachment on the Hobart that it would be to do it by hand.

As I have said before, and I repeat again, yes you can buy pre-cut vegetables, but you will pay much, much,more for that item compared to whole fruits/veg/ meat, you will suffer quality losses (usually some form of preservation/anti-oxidant is required) and will have a lot of packaging to deal with.

So if FN wants to wow us with creativity, presentation, and stress levels, I don't see why decent knife skills can't be part of the program...

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Let's be honest, even in a high end restaurant, if I cut a potato into perfect 3/8" square fries with my knife, push another through a french fry cutter with a good, sharp 3/8" plate and put some of each on the same plate going to a table, how many people are going to notice any difference? That's not an argument against having good knife skills, I happen to agree that it's an important skill. But if we're only doing it to impress the customers, for every one we impress, even in a high end place, probably 100 or more won't even notice that everything is cut to perfection (yes, I know several are going to start waving their hands and saying "I care" but eGullet is a very small and somewhat specialized representation of the overall number of people eating in restaurants). The reality is that we do it because we care, not because most of today's customers care. Maybe the celebrity chefs don't bother for the same basic reason. They have a set amount of time to get something done and most of the audience doesn't really care. Knock it out, get the shot, everybody (except for a few of us on eGullet) is happy.

3 people like this

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

' Media Chef ' is not identical to 'Chef in the Media'

""" we do it because we care """ points us in the proper direction.

We do it because we Enjoy it might be further along that trail

a skill properly learned and developed can provide immense personal satisfaction in itself

no one else need know anything about it, because you do. Its your skill

not such an easy thing to find these days.

Total Knife Skills also are quite cheap.

Not available at Amazon nor at BB$B with their 20 % off coupon.


Edited by rotuts (log)
2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Machines to do X have been around for a very long time; the supply chain that processes food into ready-to-cook ingredients, freezes them and ships them straight to your commercial kitchen at a competitive price is a much more recent phenomenon.

The price -is- competitive, or these products would have no chance in the market. I think you're just looking at pound-for-pound prices when there are additional costs (on both sides). Believe me, if it were cheaper overall for that restaurant annabelle was complaining about to buy their potatoes locally and hire a guy to slice them up in the kitchen, they would do so.

FN and others just respond to what the market demands. If enough people want to see knife skills on TV, we'll get knife skills challenges on America's Next Top Chef or whatever.

I had some quotes from Fight Club for this post but you lot probably haven't seen that one, either. Ah well.

2 people like this

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.