When we started talking about self-fulfillment as our Self-Care theme of the year, we couldn’t help but start dreaming of all the things we’ve wanted to do forever. Things we’ve wondered about, but just haven’t made a priority. Things that would give us a feeling of accomplishment, the satisfaction of learning something new that feels somehow a bit greater or more, you know, sophisticated and maybe even…daring.
The first thing on our list? A basic everyday skill you do a million times but don’t necessarily think too much about. Knife skills!
Safe to say the ‘skillz’ in our team at Handled kinda varied. Sure, we could all cut up vegetables, or at least some of us could! Our skills had been learned on the fly. One of us had gourmet parents who were featured as newlyweds in the Toronto Star for their roast chicken (excuuuuuuse us) while others, well, others shudder just a little bit when a knife gleamed. Either way, a few childhood lessons in our parents’ kitchens (or not) were all we had to serve us until now.
More complicated veggie prep or quartering a chicken? Umm yeah no. One thing we definitely agreed on? It felt very ‘Julia Child’ to imagine brandishing a Chef’s knife with confidence, slicing and dicing with everything coming out perfectly shaped and professional looking instead of higglety pigglety chippity-chops where our dice could be as triangular as they might be cubes.
Turns out there’s tonnes of knife skills classes in the city, run by a variety of cooking schools and knife suppliers. One in particular caught our eye – the one run by The Depanneur, a cool urban food hub that runs all kinds of events from ‘drop in dinners’ to classes to the hugely popular Newcomer Kitchen.
We’ll go back for dinner, for sure, but for now? Time to click “buy” on a couple of tickets for their Knife Skills Lunch & Learn. With a pretty sweater on, complimented by a bejewelled neckline that would make Julia proud, off we went.
Despite the blizzard outside, the atmosphere inside The Dep was cozy and comforting – not at all the sterile stainless steel we had in our heads. Our friendly welcome came from one of the associates, Corry, and Chef Sonya Gammal who would be our teacher for the day. A group of 10 students meant the meal we were preparing would be a communal feast with laughs and chit chat.
We knew we’d come away with new skills but we had no idea how thorough a 3 hour class could be, or how much a morning in the kitchen would drive home some skills as important in our lives, as they are when using knives.
Knife Skills meets Life Skills….
1. Practice makes perfect
Wax on, wax off. Is there ever a time when Mr. Miyagi’s sage advice doesn’t ring true? Sure as heck made sense in this class. Chef took us through the essential techniques from how to hold a knife properly to how to make that famous “claw” with your ingredient-steadying hand to keep your fingers safe. (It took a couple of tries and a little coaxing!)
Getting the form right was step one, and necessary before any cuts at all. Can’t do that? Don’t pass Go, don’t collect $200. Practice it until you get it – kind of like the ‘wax on, wax off’ Daniel practiced before blocking any actual moves.
Only then was it time to add on with different horizontal and vertical slices, performing the same technique on repeat with veggies of different textures and firmness and then tackling the finer skill of chopping large dice to small, building our confidence and our ability with each addition. Obviously, the way master a skill is to take it slowly and start at the beginning. But even though we’ve chopped something almost every day for as long as we’ve been cooking for ourselves, this was really the first time we put our brains into the effort. And that, like learning to master anything, is half the battle!
2. Preparation gets results
Just like Abraham Lincoln said: “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Quite literally, we learned how to sharpen and hone our knives, how to find quality tools, and how to prepare and take care of them. In fact, we’d say almost 40% of our time was spent in this conversation. Also, it was really meditative and fun.
Just like in most areas of life, understanding, respecting, and preparing for the craft we were learning put us in the right frame of mind to be able to complete our task well.
3. Appreciation creates abundance
From laughter to quiet concentration, from learning to maximize an ingredient (instead of rejecting edible bits simply because they’re not as pretty) to sharing a co-created meal with a table of interesting people who were, just hours earlier, complete strangers.
We were reminded that abundance can be the feeling of having plenty, even in something small. Like julienning the meat of the carrot for a recipe, adding the peel to flavour a stock, planting the leafy green top to grow again.
Simply? True abundance is more about appreciating the elements, details, and experiences already so available to us and extracting as much joy from them as possible.
4. Never underestimate the power of a skill learned by hand
Agility, flexibility, adaptability – learning a few knife skills can allow for all of this in ways that you’d need half a dozen kitchen gadgets to accomplish! When we put it that way – having a few knives around and the skill to use them just seems practical!
It’s not just practical though, it’s much more important than just that. There’s something deeply gratifying about using your hands. Even those in our gang who had barely held a knife before felt the pride that adeptness of skill provides. There’s a sense of assuredness when you know you’re capable and creative, and that’s powerful in any area of life.
From the types and anatomy of knives – and how to tell if you’re getting a good one – all the way to the tricks of the trade in ensuring every cut you make is not just safe, but also yields professional results, Chef Sonya taught us professional tricks that we could easily use at home, plus how to clean and store knives – all before we even got chopping. By the time we sat down to our lunch of spice rubbed chicken and chickpea curry masala we all felt a little more open, a little more excited, and a lot more powerful than we did walking in that morning.
Leaving our class we couldn’t help but be struck by an intense recognition of fortune, laughing with one another about the chances of trying out our new skills again – and maybe even trying a more advanced class!
Armed with the confidence of a few new knife skills and the spark of a few new life lessons, we walked into the clear crisp day, ready to take on whatever came next.