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09 March 2008

Knife Skills

It's a cliche and I know good writing abhors cliches, but one really shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

The cover says of Knife Skills has a silhouette of a santoku style knife, the sub-title is "How to carve, chop, slice. fillet". The authors are Marcus Wareing, Shaun Hill, Charlie Trotter and Lyn Hall.

If ever there was a book-cover to draw me in, this was it. I have a thing about kitchen technique at the moment and since buying my rather expensive Japanese knife last year, I've been trying to hone my knife skills. Additionally compelling was the fact that the authors were such luminaries who, with the exception of Lyn Hall, had collaborated on my favourite technique book The Cook's Book.

What I love about The Cook's Book is how comprehensive it is. It doesn't treat the reader like a moron. It assumes a basic level of knowledge and even if you don't have that, it'll hold your hand until you get it. It was also interesting to have different sections of the book written by some of the world's leading chefs. Who better to learn about desserts from than Pierre Hermé or Ferran Adrià instruct you on foams?

But, the one area it always lacked for me was specifics on knife skills. Sure, throughout the book they show you what mirepoix should look like, or how to take the wishbone out of a chicken, but there was never anything specifically dedicated to knives. So Knife Skills, created by the same people that wrote my all time fave, well it had to be winner.

And it is. To a point.

It is, if you want a book that explains different styles of knives (the section I found most interesting) or how to perform specific tasks like bone a leg of lamb or fillet fish. The problem is, much of it is swiped directly from The Cook's Book. Removing that wishbone? Filleting a round fish? Filleting a flat fish? Preparing an artichoke? Check, check, check and check. And there are many more besides.

Of the three chefs whose names are on the front covers of both Knife Skills and The Cook's Book, Marcus Wareing wrote the foreward and the section on meat. Shaun Hill wrote the sections on stocks & soups, poultry & game birds, fruit & nuts. Charlie Trotter's sections were fish & shellfish and vegetables. Much of them are repeated verbatim plus a few extra photos in the new book. I felt a bit conned, even though mine was a review copy that I thankfully didn't have to pay for.

So my best advice is this: If you already own the Cook's Book, go into a book shop and take a look at the first part of Knife Skills, the bit about different types of knives. You may decide it's worth buying for that section alone. You may not. You should however ensure you go and buy yourself a decent blade and then stick to The Cook's Book.

If you don't own The Cook's Book my suggestion would be, go and buy it and then see my suggestion for those who own it.


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I agree. The Cook's Book is the best technique guide out there. I am in the process of buying a cream whipper so I can have a crack at some of Ferran Adria's foams from the book. Also have you tried Marcus Waring's recipe for Braised Rolled Pork Belly, it's fantastic.

I keep thinking about it and then never getting round to it. I went into Page's on Shaftesbury Avenue and started fondling an iSi whip. I didn't summon up the guts to buy it as I knew it would rarely get used. But I am still tempted.

As for the braised pork belly - not the best recipe for a nice kosher boy like me :).

ah yes, forgot about that!

By the way, as a Leiths student, I'm sure I should be bigging up the Techniques Bible, but I still prefer The Cooks Book, mainly because the pictures are so much better than the crappy hand drawn illustrations in the TB.

The drawings are a bit dodgy, kind of remind of Joy of Sex! Although in some ways the Leiths book is more comprehensive. Before I had The Cook's Book I used Leiths to bone a shoulder of lamb, I was pretty impressed with the outcome, if is say so myself.

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