Today was a good day. I am officially no longer the slowest chopper in the west. I’m clearly nowhere near being the fastest but it will no longer be the case going forward that grand, lofty, 50 feet oak trees will grow in the time it takes me to slice and dice a salad bowl.
God bless Leiths and the blade happy chefs who work there.
Knife skills have always seemed to me the ultimate trademark of a decent chef; decent mind you, not even good or splendid or marvellous because then it’s taken for granted but if you’re going to have even vaguely impressive skills in the kitchen, then knowing, understanding and being able to demonstrate some of the traditional techniques without losing a polished fingernail along the way is more than useful.
Trays of beautiful, ripely-vibrant chillis and carrots and shallots and tomatoes made for a bright and inviting welcome into our kitchen…
…see? Even the vegetables are happy knowing they’re a few chops away from being a frisky little salsa…
Gathered around a central table, we were given a detailed introduction to the world of knives and how best to buy, clean and care for them – note: throwing them into a drawer night after night is apparently not recommended! – we then practised on onions, tomatoes, carrots, chillis and cucumber until our boards were covered with piles of neat cubes and silky ribbons.
Neat little tips were learnt along the way such as holding the end of the chilli with a fork rather than your fingers to avoid unintentional blinding post-slice and the skin of a tomato is the best way to test the sharpness of your knife – if it makes it through that, it’ll make it through anything else.
No wastage at Leiths means you either take your veg home with you or it goes into one big central pot for a warming vegetable stew that would actually form part of our ploughman’s lunch along with cheese, bread and pies to die for from the nearby Ginger Pig.
It wasn’t only savoury that we practised today though with blood oranges and a caramel sauce also being on the menu. Slicing vertically around the orange and then along the membrane of each segment was easier than it looked although the beautiful ripe juicyness of the fruit did add a slight challenge in not losing your grip or eating the ingredients along the way.
One simple thing that was so obvious here is that good produce and good core ingredients make such a difference to the overall flavour and end presentation of a dish. The unbelievable colour of these fruit, when layered with a thick, glossy, golden caramel, tasted insanely delicious as the sugary syrup was brought to life by the deep, fragrant, tang of the orange.
With a second knife skills course on chicken and fish in the works for the end of the month, I would highly recommend these classes as a fantastic present for someone. Running between 3 and 4 hours, they’re short enough to not take up your whole day but unrushed and relaxed enough to feel that you not only learn but actually have time to practice. The slicing itself isn’t particurly difficult but it can take a good while to get the circular movement of your wrist just right; thinking about actually about lifting your hand up and round in a circle while holding the knife resulted in a lightning bolt moment for me…but it came after many damp squib, wonkily uneven vegetable moments first!