Knife skills are one of the basic elements you need as a chef, professional or not. While a good chef’s knife is worth the investment, the knife skills and techniques learned in culinary school will last you far longer. Proper technique is one of the most important skills you’ll learn in school. It’s important to start off with a solid foundation to ensure that your cuts are safe and precise before you can master speed.
Knife Care and Safety
You’ll learn advanced knife skills in culinary classes, but the basics are very important. It’s important to know which knife is best for a particular task. You learn how to hold the knife and food correctly for speed and safety. A chef’s knife can easily take a finger off, even if it’s dull. In culinary school, you’ll also learn sharpening techniques to take care of your knife to make it last for years to come. Knife skills aren’t just important while you’re cutting food. You need to practice good techniques during cleaning and while storing your knife, too.
Good knife skills for chefs make for nice presentations when cooking, which is important but also are fundamental for so many other reasons. Uniform cut pieces will cook more evenly, instead of having over or under-cooked food. Having uniform pieces is also easier on the eye, and more aesthetically pleasing, which can make food seem more appetizing. After learning the basics, you’ll also be able to have fast knife skills, which can come in handy during busy restaurant hours. Attending a culinary school with a practice kitchen or student-run restaurant is also key for practicing your knife skills in a real restaurant setting.
Plus, having good knife skills simply gives you professional credibility. All the best chefs have had to master different knife cuts, but they started with the basics and took the time to perfect their skills.
For most knife cuts, you’ll want to square off your vegetable to make flat surfaces to work with. Don’t just throw away the sides that you cut off to make a rectangle. Toss those pieces into a stock pot to make vegetable soup. To square off a carrot, start with a peeled carrot. Slice off the ends, then slice the carrot into 2-inch segments. Slice a small layer off the side of the carrot to make a flat surface. Turn the carrot on that surface, make another slice. Turn the carrot two more times to make a rectangular cuboid.
Once you have your shape, you can practice one of the following techniques. Here are the skills you'll want to master, and the cutting techniques you'll learn in culinary school:
- Julienne - The julienne cut is a thin, stick-shaped cut similar to a matchstick. Slice the carrot lengthwise in thin slices about 1/16th-inch thick. Take the thin slices and cut them the same way.
- Brunoise dice - Use the julienne cuts you just made and make one more cut to make evenly shaped diced cuts. The brunoise dice is the smallest cut for dicing. It sounds simple, but many chefs practice for years to master it.
- Small dice - The small dice is just a little larger than the brunoise. Start with 1/8-inch cuts on your squared off carrot. Finish as you do the brunoise, only keeping the same thickness with each cut.
- Batonnet - The batonnet cut is similar to a julienne, but it is much thicker, at about ¼-inch by ¼-inch. You get a larger stick that is often used in hors d’oerves or for when you want a delicate size for eating a raw vegetable.
- Medium dice - Slice the batonnet pieces to produce cubes that are ¼-inch on each side. This cut is also referred to as “parmentier.” It’s perfect for a potato salad.
- Baton cut - At ½-inch by ½-inch by 2-inches, the baton cut is not used much in cooking. It’s a precursor to the large dice.
- Large dice - The large dice cut is the baton cut made into cubes. It’s a quick cut that is great for stews or other long-cooking dishes. You might also want to use it when cutting melons or mangos.
- Paysanne cut - A paysanne cut is a more informal and rustic cut. Instead of squaring off a vegetable, the vegetable is left in a more natural state. Then, the item is cut very thin. For example, the carrot would give you thin circles.
- Chiffonade - The chiffonade cut gives your long, thin strips. It’s most common with leafy vegetables, such as romaine or basil leaves. Stack the leaves. Roll them up tightly. Slice perpendicular to the roll in the thickness you desire.
- Rough cut - This cut is a chop that results in larger pieces ¾-inch to 1-inch thick. You don’t need to square up your vegetable, but you want it cut up to cook faster. It’s good for soups that you plan on pureeing or straining. It’s a quicker cut.
- Mince - This fine cut is often used with onion or garlic that doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s a fine cut, almost like a small dice, but the vegetable may not be squared up before cutting.
Knife Skills Give You an Edge in the Kitchen
A carrot is a good vegetable to start with because it’s typically inexpensive. Once you master each technique, you can cut just about any vegetable or fruit into uniform pieces. When you’re pursuing a career in the food industry, knife skills will set you apart from other candidates. You can use your knife schools in your own kitchen to help you prepare food quicker and safer. It takes practice and will be useful anywhere you cook.
If you’re ready to build a solid foundation of knife skills and pursue a culinary career, contact Oregon Culinary Institute today. Our chefs and instructors are some of the best in the business and are ready to help you develop the core skills and knife techniques you’ll need to be successful as a chef.