Sunday, November 2, 2008

Those Who Live By the Knife...

...die (with absolute pleasure) by the knife. Knives: sharp, sleek, silver, seductive, incisive, precise, lethal. So angular but so, so, so serpentine. Knives. What's not to like? They take masses of impossible curves and shapes and, in a sharp shiver of sudden, silver sound, reduce them to something tamed, something calculated, something at the mercy of your caprice and your control. They take hard, unrelenting surfaces and barriers and force them to yield, to cleave, to release. No, no, no to the people who think that cutting is mere technique, it has, it is, and forever shall remain, a precious, an anagogic, and a far too meagerly lauded, art

Welcome. This is the Cult of the Cut, and this is the cake + the knife. I have a little theory about cake.
Cake, more than any other food on this munchable planet, was made for the cutting. Cutting a cake is the best sexual experience you can have all by yourself, completely alone, with not another soul in a 5km radius. If I was the last person alive and I had a steady stream of dense cakes to cut, and a lovely, heavy knife with which to perform that sacred, surgical pleasure, I would scarcely notice my solitary state. I get more pleasure from putting a knife to a cake than I do from putting the cake to my mouth and tasting it. Especially a dense, wet cake, one that fights back a little with the blade, plays hard to get before it finally surrenders in a breathless: yes, yes, yes..take me! Pavlova need not apply.

When dense cakes finally yield to knifes edge, the awed breath catches in your throat just a little, it's one of life's perfect moments. To pull away a clean blade from the surgical edge of a thick, moist cake is an aesthetic so consummately agreeable that I may never need another man again if I can just ponder it for long enough...Who if I cried out would hear me among the angels heirarchies, and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart, I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence, for beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us...ahh, I am so sure Rilke had a moist, dark, flourless chocolate torte with double vanilla bean clotted cream in mind when he wrote those words. Surely, the cake was born for the knife.

Cutting a cake brings out all of those stranger figures that dwell in the subterranean ethers of our messed up minds: the Destructor, the Decadent, the Killer, the Playful Child, the Dark One, the Control Queen, the one who likes it Neat and Straight and Perfect, the Glutton, the Luster. Cake + knife + Sin. The Devil knows how to cut cake, I am sure of it. Cutting a cake = great. But, this wouldn't be my demented little food blog if I didn't introduce some ludicrous but necessary criterion with which to deepen an already consecrated experience:

You're cutting the whole entire cake, but are you, my beloveds, cutting the slice? Forks and spoons belong no where near a cake. I am unequivocal on that. The slice itself is like sexual reproduction in eukaryotic cells, you need meiosis and mitosis. The whole cake must be assembled into slices, but then, like a smelly frenchman who sits by a provincial tree slicing cheese off a slab, you need a smaller, but equally sharp knife with which to section up your little slice into wedges or slivers depending on the cake's consistency. From that subcategorical cut, you have a most momentous choice to make: do you then bring the knife, quivering with the weight of its sugared, creamy, chocolately bounty, up to your anticipating mouth, or do you take the little sliver/wedges and then, with slow and gloriously unsteady fingers, carry them, in slow motion, to their final end? Either way, cutting the slice is perfect consummation of the experience of dessert. Spoons and forks are for people who don't appreciate the nature of the cake. That's why it had to be the cake + the knife. They are the perfect partners, like lightness and darkness, good and evil, cake + knife are eternally fused.
I could pretty much write 2008 off in terms of having achieved anything brilliant, but one thing I did finally do this year was listen to the advice almost every cook worth their weight in 100% Valrhona Dark Chocolate tells you, get yourself a decent knife! I'd had way too many frustrated run ins with hard ass pumpkins last winter, even not so sweet potatoes were having it over me. Root vegetables were rooting me left right and center. Oh no you don't. C'est suffi! No more dud knives in my kitchen. Actually, no more dud knives in my Mum's kitchen (I am still looking for my bloody kitchen). I decided it was finally time to stop putting off the inevitable purchase, so I headed off to a culinary tool shop to nose over their range of knives and pick out my baby. 
I scored a very cool Chinese sales guy who knew a good deal about cooking and slicing and dicing (Yan Can Cook style!). I explained my status as a wannabe home cooking wunderkind and my desire to have the knife of my dreams. After establishing that I was far too old for wunderkindness, we just settled in on getting me a damn good blade. Meet Wesley!
Wesley, as in Wesley Snipes. I never really got over how cool he is as Sidney Deane in White Men Can't jump. Given that my knife handle was black, that it was sharp, and sexy, and that it has a blade, Wesley was the only name to go with. My knife called Wesley actually snipes things as well. Levels, I am nothing if not levels. Wesley is the $300 bad boy of my Culinary Wet Dreams. Yeah, I thought $300 was a bit steep at the time, but I honestly will never regret this purchase. My chopping board prowess has gone from zero to hero. Pumpkins just look at me, armed with Wesley and a smirk, and surrender. Without me even making contact they cut themselves into little soup sized squares. Chicken is my bitch now, too. I can cut through wings and bones and legs and carcasses without even a raising of the slightest sweat. Things cut. They cut sharp and true and fast and without any fuss. 

A good knife takes out so much of the struggle of preparation. When you have the right tools for cooking, it all happens much more breezily, with much less mess and a hell of a lot less cussing. If you don't own a good knife yet, you're simply not living the dream. Rusty, dull, blunt blades are so frustrating, they make it hard to deal with bulkier vegetables and can put you off the whole process of cooking certain things. I have cooked a lot more since Wes joined the family.
Wesley belongs to the ancestral line of Wusthof. There's a thingermajiger over the U that I can't do on my keyboard. These are basically your rolls royces of knives, they are German, and just like German people, they don't mess around and they get the job done, with precision and exactitude, and if you upset them, you may lose a pinky or two. Trust the Germans to make a good knife. The handles are brilliant, so comfortable, so perfect a fit in the hand, you don't get tired when gripping them for extended periods of time. The blades are designed to resist scratching, the salesman told me he had had his for 10 years and had still not sharpened it. He also told me his boss had given herself a six stitch gash using one of these knives that took forever to heal...sold! That really is the perfect sales pitch to any given sadist. 

Chefs use this brand of knife more than any other. The blade itself tends to be much thicker than you find in Western knives. Japanese blades tend to be more popular for super duper sharpness, but for durability and long term general kitchen prep, a thicker blade is what will retain sharpness for longer. There are so many shapes and types to choose from, depending on how technical you want to get and how much money you're prepared to part with. 

Wes is a Classic 4582/23cm. A good shape and size for most of the general slicing and dicing that I get up to. I spent a bit extra to get a longer knife because it makes cutting larger things much easier. Be sure to spend time holding the knives when you're looking at them in the shop, you can tell which ones you like the feel of instantly. Don't be afraid to ask for advice on what the best blade is for the type of effect you'd like and type of cooking you do, staff are usually quite knowledgeable and don't mind explaining why one brand or type is a better option for you. Take your time and be sure that it's a worthwhile investment. Even if you're not a great cook and you want to be, getting some good tools encourages you to play around a bit more, it inspires you to try new things out, or to try at all. I have taken cooking a bit more seriously since Wes has been my wing man.
Go to The Essential Ingredient, DJ's, Myer or special knives/chef shops. Goldstein on William St in Sydney has a great range as well. Promise it'll vamp things up in the kitchen for you if you have an awesome knife. They're fun to own, just try not to cut yourself. Wes and I have had one run in, I bled through three elastoplast fabric bandaids, god I love him.

That's knives, people. I would love some comments, but please, no cutting remarks. 


reggers said...

Ahhhh, my favourite topic - cutting implements! I'd like to start a little sub-blog here and ask people to list their favourite knife.

After much experimentation, I've settled my tunnel vision on the Japanese masters. My Shun knife makes my kitchen a happy happy place to be. With its 'D' shaped wooden handle, 16 layers of clad stainless steel and very sharp 16 degree cutting edge (compared to 22 degrees on the German made knives), I have to disagree with you on this one Amanda!

My favourite is the Shun classic Santoku knive, followed closely by my Victorinox bird's beak paring knife, which you can't go past at $10 a pop.

amanda said...

Hitler vs Jet Li.

there is clearly only one way to solve this. we meet up at some predisclosed clearing in the woods at sundown, you bring your knife, i bring mine and we compare size and stab wounds?

trust the dentist to have me stumped! i have visions of you chopping wisdom teeth with wedge blades. are shun knifes the ones with the wooden marbley handles? i dont know them, i have to confess. tell me more? what do you use them for, everything or specific cutting? email a picture and ill upload it, itll be good to give people some options. where did you buy yours from?

dont bother snapping the 10 buck blade, its a classy blog type thing im trying to run here!

karate kid said...

jet li isn't japanese. how about mr. miyagi?
weight could be another factor when choosing knives.
I use Global knives. i like them because they're light, balanced and easy to hold.

always good to have a set of knives. sharpened for perfection.

reggers said...

Shun knives:

I'm working on the photo of my knife. See you in the woods at sundown. Sayonara Adolf.


Kamikazi Knife Girl.