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Duane Nutter, One Flew South
Working in the airport at One Flew South, we have to keep everything chained to the counter for security purposes, which is a whole other thing to worry about on top of typical kitchen concerns. I don't often get to use the knives I really care about. Just yesterday, we had one of our quarterly knife inspections by the health inspectors. I had gotten rid of three bad knives and they were all over it, asking where the knives went, how I disposed of them.
There's a 24-inch-long plastic-wrapped cable tying each knife to the counter — it actually makes things not so safe for the cooks — and I had to use knives with plastic handles that I knew I could drill a hole in to secure the cord. They're cheap knives that we can get the blade back quick on, but then replace a couple times a year. We get in whole salmon, and it's a trick to take off the heads and slice them effectively with the knives we have. It was crazy the first time we had to do that in this kitchen, breaking down the fish a whole different way than we would typically do it because of the knives. And, in this kitchen, the knives don't belong to any individual cook, so they do get beat up a bit more than they would typically. The knives that we do have, it influences what we serve, how we break things down. It all comes down to the knives we can use.
Since I was 19, I've had this big old scimitar. It's like a baby sword that's about a 12-inch blade. It's been my main knife over the years, breaking down chops, big primal butchering, cutting right through watermelon because the blade's so long. But I only get to use it at special events now since I can't use it at One Flew South. I get all excited now when I get to break out my baby.
Eli Kirshtein, Chef/Consultant
I have a 12-inch Sabatier chef knife that probably weighs two pounds. It was a gift from Richard Blais, who got it in culinary school, and he said that if I could cut accurately with that knife, I could do anything. This knife has killed turtles, it has sabred open Champagne bottles. It has personality. It's an heirloom.
I have another knife I got when I was 17 or so, a Mizuno slicer, carbon steel. I've used it a ton over 12 years or so, and it has lost close to an inch in length with all the cutting and sharpening. It has lots of personal value. I'm so paranoid about it, I actually have trouble taking it with me places. Once when I was in New York, I was running late to catch a plane, didn't have time to check bags. I had my Mizuno with me and ended up paying off a skycap to hold it for me to retrieve later! I can't travel with that knife anymore.
My Nenox chef's knife, which I bought probably seven or eight years ago, has a beautiful handle made from Chinese quince wood. At first, I just thought it was almost too precious to use. But as I did, and as I realized that it was meant to be used, I became happier with it.
As much as I care about my knives, I see it becoming almost a false fetish for some people. No one needs 45 knives — it's ridiculous. So much of the higher end of cooking these days is about finding the most esoteric ingredient, and the knives are no different, having something no one else has. A good chef can have just one knife, focus on keeping it sharp, and master the motions, the mechanics, of cutting properly. As much as we obsess over knives, it's really the magician, not the wand that makes the magic.
Tags: Food Issue, Bradley Chance, The Spence, Mihoko Obunai, Miso Izakaya, Jordan Wakefield, Meehan’s Public House, Jordan Wakefield, Meehan’s Public House, Duane Nutter, One Flew South, Eli Kirshtein, Chad Clevenger, Alma Cocina, Colin Miles, Leon’s Full Service, Pura Vida, John Metz, Marlow’s Tavern, Zeb Stevenson, Livingston Restaurant+Bar, Takao Moriuchi, Taka Sushi and Passion
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