Cooking school for kids: Knife stuff

Don’t be a cut-up

I did a pile of reading trying to get this together, but first and foremost in my head was safety. Knife safety, stove and oven safety, situational awareness, etc. Now, my students generally have a decent sense of self-preservation, so I decided to start them off with knife safety and knife skills.

Safely passing a sharp utensil
The procedure in our class is:
1) Person A must get Person B’s attention. THEN ask to borrow their knife. Your hands may NOT enter someone else’s work area.
2) Person B puts down the knife, handle toward Person A, and withdraws.
3) Person A may then pick up the knife and use it.

No exceptions. I told the kids at the beginning of the first class that everyone had to practice situational awareness – not just around knives, but around all the potential hazards in the kitchen. Horseplay of any kind gets you kicked off the island.

There are a ton of Knife Skills lessons out on the internet, so I won’t post them here. I just want them to remember basic knife handling safety:

  • Knife grip: you’re in charge of the knife, not the other way around. Don’t start until you have a firm handle on your knife, physically and mentally.
  • Stabilize your cutting surface and your object before beginning to cut or chop.
  • Use The Claw method to protect your hands. We are NOT eating fingers in this class.
  • Stay Alert: other people are using knives. YOU are using a knife. No reaching into another person’s work space, ever.
  • Never try to catch a falling knife. If you drop it, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Protect yourself first; we can always get a new knife.

Slightly more advanced knife information:

  • The middle third of the knife is the main working area. The tip is for picking out little bits, the tang third is for brute force (not being used at this time). Work smart, not hard.
  • Push in a forward motion, with the tip in a downward position.
  • Use a slight sawing or rocking motion when cutting through objects that resist. It’s better to keep control of the knife in short draws than try to hack through it in one go – this isn’t a samurai movie. If you push straight down on, say, bread, you squash the bread.

Cuts for student practice:

  • Large dice: regular cubes, about the size of playing dice
  • Small dice: regular cubes, about the size of peas
  • Mince: very small pieces, like pepper-flake size. Keep the tip on the board, and put the off hand on top of the knife. Use a repeated up-and-down motion with the on hand moving in an arc across the object to start breaking it down. Not small enough the first few passes? Carefully scrape them together and do it again.
  • Slicing: get used to the forward and downward motion, and consistent slices

Equipment tips:

  • If you’re going to buy knives for a class, do NOT bother with the $.88 Mainstays knives that Walmart sells. They suck. I spent the $4 for the Farberware 6″ chef’s knife, and it does just fine. Plus, it comes with a knife guard.
  • Got really little chefs? Try letting them use a nylon lettuce knife to practice.
  • What to practice on without ending up with a mountain of chopped vegetables: PLAY DOUGH. Yes, it’s a little on the sticky side, but you can use it over and over again, it cleans up easily, and your can demonstrate different types of cuts without drowning you in veg.

Practice recipe: Stir fry chicken and vegetables

head cephalopod

Just sorting out the flotsam of the universe.

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