Sunday, August 07, 2005

For Chef, Knife is Finely Tuned Instrument

Boston Globe -- Marcus Samuelsson still owns the French Sabatier knife he got as a gift from his sister when he was 17.

Since then, Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Sweden, has become the celebrated chef and co-owner of Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in New York, and the culinary director of Riingo, an American-Japanese restaurant, also in New York.

A good knife, he says by way of analogy, is as important to a chef as a violin is to a violinist.

''It's the instrument for a chef," says Samuelsson, who was recently in Milford for a taping of ''Simply Ming," the TV program hosted by local chef Ming Tsai.

Home cooks will also want good knives. While many are sold in sets, Samuelsson says you might not need everything you get.

Two basics are a chef's knife, which typically falls in the 8-inch range and is good for chopping, and a paring knife, which is smaller and used for tasks like peeling. Beyond that, ''it all comes down to how much cooking you do," he says.

Consider what you like to cook. Fish is central to Scandinavian cuisine, Samuelsson notes, so he uses flexible knives that are good for fileting. For him, a serrated bread knife is also essential (serrated knives are also good for tomatoes).

Cleavers might once have been considered a staple -- Samuelsson's grandmother used one -- but these days, grocery stores and butchers cut meat for you.

Samuelsson, who says he likes to give knives as gifts, says many knife stores will be ready with suggestions. Stoddard's, the Boston cutlery store, recommends four basic knives to customers, says owner David Marks: a long, flexible blade for slicing, a chef's knife for chopping, a small knife for paring, and a serrated edge for bread.

Knives can be pricey. Popular brands like Wusthof and Henckels easily sell for $100 or more.

While Marks likes Wusthof, he also recommends the Swiss brand Victorinox, maker of Swiss Army knives, for those seeking value. The company's paring knives sell for as little as $5, while larger cooking knives range around $30. Global is a popular Japanese brand of lighter, thinner knives with a sleek design.

In addition to his Sabatier knife, Samuelsson, whose program ''Inner Chef" will debut on the Discovery Home Network this fall, likes a brand called MAC. Their knives can sell for as much as $250, according to the company's website, but many are under $100.

Samuelsson prefers heavier knives, and recommends looking for one with a sturdy handle. The knives he likes are precise and have good steel positioning.

''When you have a good knife in your hand, you feel it," he says.

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