Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Cut Above: Knife Skills Class at Sur La Table

Even though I love to cook and do a fair amount of it, I seldom write about it on the blog. Why? Because I am an ambitious but totally self-trained cook. I have terrible technique; the only things I know I learned from reading Julia or watching Alton.

About a year ago, I was trying to go all Iron Chef on some cantaloupe and I cut my thumb so badly that I had to visit the emergency room to get it stitched up. The next Christmas I received a well intended Sur La Table gift card to be used for a knife skills class (regular price, $70).

Well, it took me almost a year to get to it, but I finally signed up for a class at the SLT at the Third and Fairfax Farmers Market, and I'm so glad I did.

Super-animated but down to earth instructor Tina Rogers started with the basics of knives: the different knife types, sharpening and honing and proper handling. After that, she gave us demos of the basic cuts and hints about how to improve technique, subsequently setting us loose with the knives to try it all out. We sliced, diced and julienned to our hearts' content using everything from ceramics to santokus to big old Shuns.

Rogers was a great instructor with a good sense of humor who was game to answer any question, relevant or not, and I literally learned at least a dozen things that will improve my game in the cutting world. While there was a "shopping break" for which to use our complimentary 15% off coupon, there wasn't any hard sell, and in fact, Rogers was less than enthusiastic about the world of $300 knives and unnecessary knife accessories.

During the class, our beautifully cut food was carted away to the front kitchen where it was turned into a pasta dinner that we enjoyed, with wine, after the class. Considering this, and the fact that during the class there were ample snacks and bottled water, it's a pretty good deal for $70.

Now, I've got to admit, I'm not a Sur La Table fan. Let's face it, you can get pretty much everything they sell for at least half the price at Cost Plus or Surfas, but this class was both fun and gave me new skills. The next day, when I chopped up apples for my baby daughter, I took the opportunity to give her nicely julienned strips.

The Sur La Table culinary program, which is only available at selected stores, includes a number of interesting sounding classes including baking, holiday meals, sauces and even molecular gastronomy. Some classes, like knife skills, are hands on, but others are demos, so check that out when you sign up. Tina Rogers seems to teach knife skills about once a month, but sign up early because they do fill up.

Given how much I enjoyed this class, I know I'll sign up for more. Until then, I plan to engage in lots of injury free cutting.

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