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ON COOKING: How to find knives that are a cut above

Look for high-carbon steel in any knives so they stay sharp longer
Email your cooking questions to Chef Dez at

by Chef Dez/Special to The News

I have always said that one of my favourite things about being a Chef is that I get to play with knives. Although this may sound very adventurous in a James Bond sort of way, knife skills and proper/safe cutting practices are a very serious subject in the kitchen. With some basic knowledge, you can start to overcome any cutting intimidation you may have.

In this column I will focus on the tools themselves – the knives. This will be the first of 3 installments on cutting. My next column will focus on cutting boards, and the third column will focus on cutting techniques.

There are many choices when trying to decide on which knives will adorn the collection of cutting tools in your kitchen. The marketplace is saturated with everything from mail-order deals to high-end specialties.

First and foremost, I must stress that one usually gets what they pay for. Before you reach for your credit card when you see the full collection of ginsu knives for only $29.99 on TV, think about it realistically. How well are these knives manufactured? Once the $30 is divided between the TV air-time costs, the production of the commercial, and any middlemen that may be in between (such as marketers, etc.), how much is actually going toward the manufacturing of these knives? Remember, from this amount, a profit must be made as well.

If you are looking to start a good quality knife collection, you should purchase knives that are made from high-carbon stainless steel. The high-carbon content in stainless steel is what ensures the steel is strong. This is very important for keeping a sharp edge. Any knife can be made from stainless steel, but unless it has a high-carbon content as well, it will lose its sharpness very quickly in comparison.

Start with a standard “chef’s” knife. Other than for bread cutting, this is the most versatile knife one can have in the kitchen and can be used for almost any application. It offers a curved top edge of the blade that facilitates a rocking motion to ease most cutting/slicing preparations.

The next knife one should purchase for their collection is a good quality serrated knife for bread cutting. The serrated edge will not only produce perfect slices of bread without squashing the bread; it also brings relief to producing extremely thin cuts of fruits and vegetables.

One should also purchase a paring knife because a chef’s knife might be overkill for those small jobs. These are the three main knives that should grace the starting foundation of your knife collection. From this point on, you can proceed to adding other knives such as a carving knife, filet knife, cleaver, vegetable knife, etc.

Almost all good quality knives will offer a full tang, meaning that the steel blade will run through the full length of the handle as well. This will offer more balance and control.

Most importantly, ask questions and ask to handle the knives to ensure they offer a comfortable companionship with your unique hand. If a retail store is not informative about their products, and will not allow you to handle them, then take your business to one that will.

Dear Chef Dez:

I am already assuming that you will not recommend buying those full sets of knives for a really low price from TV, but they must be good if they offer a lifetime guarantee that they will never need sharpening. How can they do this? Is there a catch?

Doris B., Burnaby

Dear Doris,

I am assuming that the knives you are referring to are the same that I have seen. Although they are stainless steel, they offer a very low carbon content which makes them soft steel in comparison, and thus less expensive to manufacture.

Since all of the edges on these knives are serrated, they will keep their sharpness for a longer period of time than a straight edged knife, because the cutting is achieved by tearing at the food rather than slicing through it.

They can offer a “lifetime guarantee” because they play on normal human behaviour. Chances are if they ever do need sharpening/replacing, one is not going to spend the money to ship them back to the manufacturer.


– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at Send questions to or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4


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