knife skills: basics

What a personal topic!  I was never taught how to hold a knife and I learned as a culinary instructor that there's no single, best way to teach a student how to hold a knife. Which makes sense. Our hands are as different as we humans are from one another.  The universal rule to follow is this: maintain a firm grip on the knife using both hand and arm strength to allow you to be in control of the cutting action. What causes one cook to "choke up" on the knife handle, moving the fingers closer to the blade, versus firmly gripping the lower end of the handle, is relative to the comfort of the hand and being in control of the knife. 

Most cooks will use five main knives regularly: a French (or chef's) knife, a paring knife, a boning knife, a thin filet or slicing knife, and a knife with a serrated edge for slicing bread. Ninety-eight percent of the time I have a knife in my hands, it's one of these five. That's not to say that collecting a kit of knives over time is not a worthy--and possibly necessary--pursuit for the serious cook or professional.

A sharp blade is critical. Then, every other stroke, chop, cut, slice and dice is really just a matter of practice and gaining confidence with the various cuts and shapes. Trained chefs make using a knife look easy, but there are thousands of hours of practice behind the progression from irregular to precise knife work. 

Automation and machinery have replaced the hand and knife when it comes to transforming the large quantities of ingredients used in institutional kitchens from whole to bite-sized.  But for the majority meals cooked in home kitchens, a knife is still one of the most important contributions to preparing the meal. Only a handheld knife can create uniqueness in every plate, and learning to use one well makes eating the the meal the easiest part part of all!