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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Victorinox Forschner Fibrox: Your Best Bet For A Good Kitchen Knife

"A Sharp Knife Is a Safe Knife"

Just about anybody you ask will tell you the most important piece of equipment in your kitchen is a good kitchen knife. And they'll likely tell you that you don't need a fifty-piece set. Three knives will
generally do; a chef's knife, a utility knife, and a paring knife. Most will also throw in a serrated knife for cutting breads and cakes and such. From there on you're pretty much on your own as to selecting the best knives for your needs.

At this point, I could go into great detail about metallurgy and composition and carbon content in the steel and angles and degrees of honing a knife's edge and lots of other arcania that most people don't care about, don't need to know, and quickly forget anyway. I'm generally pretty good at overwriting like that. But not this time. Basically, you want a sharp knife that's going to stay sharp and last a long time.

Don't walk, run from the sets you find displayed on discount retailer's shelves. Anything that comes in sets of ten or twelve or eighteen or more pieces complete with a nifty knife block for less than twenty dollars is a cheap disaster waiting to happen. The blades will warp and break, the handles will degrade and/or come off and the edges will dull quickly and stay that way. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing more dangerous in a kitchen than a dull knife.

I always carry my knives with me when I'm invited to places where I know there's a better than even chance I'll be cooking something. I got caught unprepared at a friend's house once and, after observing my cursing attempt to cut a potato with a knife I nearly had to stand on, my friend went straight to Walmart and came home proudly displaying a brand new set of knives. It was a twenty-three piece Mainstays (Walmart's store brand) set in a “natural” block. He had shelled out twenty bucks for it. I asked him for another twenty dollar bill, which I took and promptly set on fire. Not really, but I might as well have done so, and so might he. Half the “23-piece” set was knives. The remainder were spatulas and measuring cups and such. So, allowing that the “natural” block and the cheap plastic accessories might have been worth four dollars, he paid about sixteen bucks for twelve knives. That's a buck-thirty-three per knife. I ask you, what kind of quality do you really think you're getting?

And don't be fooled by the “celebrity chef” products you see in a lot of stores. Paula Deen's got her name and face on everything. So do Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay and Mario Batali and Marcus Samuelsson and Emeril and Wolfgang and a host of others. Most of these knives are manufactured by companies like Farberware, the same folks who make the twenty-dollar sets you see at Walmart, except they stamp a celebrity's name on them and retail them for four or five times as much.

At the other end of the spectrum are the prestigious “name” brands. Wusthof, Henckels, Global. These are fine knives, the highest quality German and Japanese steel and the best craftsmanship on the market. And you'll lay out as much for one knife as you will for a hundred or more of the store-brand knives from Walmart. Is it worth it? Probably. If properly taken care of, it will likely be the last knife you'll ever buy. They're that good. But I can't afford a set of them. I can't even afford the three or four recommended ones. Most people can't without a bank loan. A set of the three basic knives from Wusthof is going to set you back......oh, somewhere around three hundred dollars. Or about fifteen of the “23-piece” sets from Wally World.

No, what you need is a work horse. Take a peek in the kitchen of your favorite local restaurant. You definitely won't see any “Mainstays” or “Farberware” or “Paula Deen” knives on that magnetic strip over the prep area. And you probably won't see many Wusthofs or Globals there, either. But you might see my favorite knife; the Victorinox Forschner Fibrox.

Crafted in Switzerland by the people who have been making Swiss Army knives for more than a century, this knife is a food service industry standard and staple. Razor sharp, lightweight, perfectly balanced with a comfortable non-slip Fibrox grip, this is a piece of professional grade kitchen equipment anybody can afford for home use. The 8-inch chef's knife – my favorite – generally retails in stores for about thirty dollars, and you can get some great deals online at Amazon and other sources. My wife finds the 8-inch knife to be a little big for her hand, so I bought her the 6-inch model and now she won't use anything else. If you're a reader of Cook's Illustrated or Cook's Country magazines or a fan of their America's Test Kitchen TV programs, the Victorinox is the knife they use and recommend as their “Best Value.” If it can stand up to the hard use of the test kitchens and of your neighborhood restaurant kitchens, it'll do a great job in yours.

Besides the 6 and 8-inch models, there are 10 and 12-inch chef's knives. And the aforementioned utility, paring, and serrated bread knives are also available, all at very affordable prices.

A final word of advice: don't buy any knife until you've held it in your hand. The best knife for your kitchen is the one that's best for you. I fell in love with my Victorinox after I went to several kitchen stores and held all the Globals and Henckels and Wusthofs and all the others they had to offer. Some of the ones I expected to like I found to be unsuited to my needs. The handle was uncomfortable, the balance was off, the weight was too heavy or too light. But that surprising little Victorinox turned out to be the Goldilocks of kitchen knives; everything about it was just right.

As I said, Victorinox Forschner Fibrox knives are widely available at restaurant supply stores as well as at retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond and local culinary shops. If you don't have any of those nearby, just enter the name in your search engine and take your pick from among the dozens of results. But I really do recommend laying hands on one first. It's a great knife for the test kitchen chefs and for your neighborhood restaurant cooks and for my wife and me, but your mileage may vary.

Regardless of whether you choose my favorite knife or go all out on some of the high-end knives, please don't succumb to the temptation of cheap, bargain-basement, “value” knives. They can hurt you.....literally. And after replacing them every couple of years, you'll wind up spending as much as you would on a decent knife in the first place. The second favorite knives in my kitchen are more than fifty years old. They are from a set of Ecko Eterna knives my mother got before I was born. They've been well cared for. They've never rattled around loose in a drawer and they've never seen the inside of a dishwasher. Their double-riveted hardwood handles are still in good shape and they retain an edge that will go up cut-for-cut against any of the newer, more pricey slicers and dicers on the market. Old-fashioned quality counts, cheap is cheap, and you get what you pay for.

An old Portuguese proverb says, “A bad knife cuts one's finger instead of the stick.” Substitute “steak” for “stick” and bear that in mind when shopping for kitchen knives.

1 comment:

  1. Just sharpened a 10" Ekco Eterna tonight. It's a nice piece of heavy quality stainless steel that makes me proud to be an edge enthusiast and all round steel junky. After reprofiling on a diamond plate, an #800 chemical stone, a 1200 King stone then a paddle stropping with .05 green wax I pared the skin off an orange like I was cutting through a hologram and when I placed the knife on the orange to slice it it practically fell to the cutting board with only a slight bit of guidance. I'm still learning how to sharpen but I know one thing for sure junk steel is not worth anybody's​ time or money. There are some great old knives for cheap in the thrift stores but they are buried in piles and piles of junk steel and it seems there are enough pickers out there to make even those piles void of anything of quality but it's out there. I just finished a Japanese made "Sicialian Chef" ealier today, probably sold in Safeways in the early 70's. It has an old design and look but it's good stainless that takes a wicked edge, I was mincing grapes with it just because I could. You just can't make edges like that with junk steel. Victorinox.. I agree, you can't beat the value there. I have a 10" Victorinox and a 10" Wustoff Classic cook's knife, I love my Wustoff for it's quality and build but frankly is sits in it's sleeve jealous of my Swiss captain of the cutting board.

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