Before I took my first hands-on cooking class at Sur La Table, I considered myself a pretty good cook. But little did I know, I’d walked into Hell’s Kitchen. Our chef instructor, Monique or Lalique, assigned workstations and gave us our first task: chop a shallot into ¼-inch dice for a basil cream sauce.
Everyone around me was going chop, chop, chop, chop. It was like a scene from Ratatouille, but I’m going, slice-pull, slice-pull because I don’t have a rat under my hat telling me what to do. The chop, chop, chopper next me looked at my technique and said, “That’s not how you hold a knife.”
“It’s how I always hold it,” I said back.
She looked down her nose. “Then you’ve always done it wrong.”
Which, when you think of it, was a stupid thing to say because I still had a knife in my hand.
The chef wandered among us saying, “That is nice, very good, excellent technique,” but when she gets to me says, “Oh, no, no, no, no.” She swiped my diced shallot into the trash, plopped a new one in front of me and said, “The dice must be uniform. Try again.”
I have no idea what accent I’m using, but that’s not the point.
“You must hold the knife with a pinch grip and never put your finger on the spine,” she said, waving her finger at me.
Spine? I thought that a knife had two parts: the handle and the blade. But, no, no, no, no. There is the tip, spine, edge, blade, heel, bolster, tang, handle, butt and the rivet.
The woman at my station looked at me like I’m an imbecile and said, “You need to take the knife skills class,” and the other students all nodded in agreement.
Tears welled in my eyes, and that’s when I realized that these people were all—knife skills snobs. Yes, there is such a thing. They reveled in chopping my ego down to ¼-inch dice.
“I don’t care if my dice is uneven,” I said, but from their horrified looks, you’d think I’d just plucked a short curlie out of my white sauce. My hand began to shake, unable to chop, reluctant to display my staggering ignorance.
That’s when I wished I could channel the sharp-edged tongue of my personal idol, a woman who can cut anyone down to size—Helen Mirren.
Cool-bitch chic. Yeah, that’s a knife skill I’d pay to learn. I’d say to that chop-chop snob, “You deeply flawed, utterly useless kitchen drudge. I am dumbfounded by your shortsighted, caustic invective and pathetic intolerance. Even a pillock knows that no matter how you chop it, a shallot is a shallot. So lighten up you oxygen wasting, human form of pollution. This is supposed to be fun.”
But in the end it didn’t matter, because my sauce tasted just as good as hers.