The right tools play a crucial role in this – and that’s why we asked the master chef about his Damascus Steel Knife Set. Which knives are compulsory in the kitchen? And what should you watch out for with knives? In addition, in the OSTMANN interview, the 30-year-old cuts briefly how he fought his way from Costa Rica to Canada with a set of knives …
Good knives are downright sacred to a cook. Which ones should everyone have at home?
If you love to cook often, knives that cut well and can be sharpened are the be-all and end-all. A Damascus chef’s knife or a Japanese santoku, a saw knife, a vegetable or paring knife, and a boner should always be close at hand to have.
“Boning” sounds strange – what is the knife for?
“Boning” is the process of removing the bone from the meat. Hence the name of the knife. With its thin tip, you can also remove the tendons – this process is called “parrying” in the kitchen.
What distinguishes a classic Damascus Steel Knife Set?
It has a long, pointed, and relatively rigid, curved blade. The point is used to cut onions and other vegetables, but processing meat is no problem either for Damascus Steel Knife Set. As a young cook, I always thought that the length of the blade mattered. But it doesn’t have to be longer than eight inches. It is crucial that it lies comfortably in the hand. A tidy handle is at least as important as the blade when buying.
Professionals often chop vegetables with knives like this at a mad pace. Is there a trick to doing this?
You can only cut quickly if the material to be cut has a large contact surface. The blade then rests against the middle part of the middle finger and flies up and down. I call this posture “tiger claw” (see photo; editor’s note). There is actually no trick. As always, practice makes perfect. But there is one thing you should never do …
During my internship at the Kempinski Hotel in Dresden, I almost got something behind my ears because I wanted to push the chopped herbs together with the sharp side of the Damascus Steel Knife Set. That doesn’t work at all – you take the back of the knife for that. Otherwise, since the board you cut on is harder than the steel of the blade, you will break the knife.
Even if you master rules like these, every blade loses its sharpness over time. What’s the best way to sharpen a knife?
This works best with a sharpening steel and whetstone. By the way, in this context I am not talking about “sharpening the knife”, but rather about “reactivating” or “freshening up”. You have to imagine a blunt blade similar to the tips of hair that are subjected to heavy wear. If you were to look at the Damascus Steel Knife Set edge under a microscope, you would see small protruding parts – comparable to split ends on hair.
Do you prefer stone or sharpening steel?
To reactivate, I use sharpening steel every day. My water stone is only used for a deep cut. I put it on a damp cloth and then I slide the knife away from me and back towards me. In this way, I create the desired abrasion with four or five concentrated grinding movements.
What do you think of ceramic knives? Supposedly they stay hot forever …
Ceramic knives have so far not caught on in professional kitchens. Why? Because they can shatter like a plate if they hit the floor. The point of a steel knife can break off, but there are no splinters which, in the worst-case scenario, could end up in the food.
When is your saw knife used?
I use it to cut bread or fruit. It has a cherry wood handle and is only sanded on one side. By the way, what you have just called a saw knife can also be called “confectioner’s spruce”.
Why confectioner’s spruce?
The confectioner cuts his cakes with these long, flexible blades with a serrated edge. In the horizontal position. As is well known, a cake consists of several layers and you build them up one after the other before the master finally puts the cake back together.
Your knife set also includes one with a short, curved blade – what is that all about?
This is the so-called “paring knife” – this is the only way to glide cleanly along a round or uneven shape. It is the classic for peeling potatoes or apples.
Is it true that you owe a friendship to your knives?
That’s how you can say it. Before I worked as a sous-chef in Vancouver, Canada and finally ended up here in Hamburg, I traveled from Costa Rica to Guatemala to Canada in around eleven months – with my knives in my luggage. On my tour, I kept hiring in kitchens. And in Costa Rica I met Pablo, with whom I am now friends. I ate an amazing burger on his food truck. I wanted to know exactly how he prepared it – and was then allowed to support him for seven days. It only worked because I had my own knives with me. In swimming trunks and flip-flops, nobody else will take you for granted.
The chef’s knife
The pointed blade is usually around 20 centimeters long. The slight rounding guarantees that you can work very effectively with little pressure.
The Japanese santoku
Like the classic chef’s knife, the popular Santoku can be used universally. The name is derived from the Japanese words “san” and “toku” and means “three virtues”. What it means is that it is equally suitable for meat, fish and vegetables. The high back of the blade and the rather squat point are significant for this knife shape.
The saw or bread knife
The decisive factor here is the long blade (preferably 20 centimeters or more) with the so-called “serrated edge”. This is the only way to get through meat or bread crusts without any problems. Smooth blades do not find the right starting point on rough surfaces.
The paring knife
If you often peel fruit and vegetables, you need a paring knife. With the short, curved blade you can optimally follow the shape of the cut material. The core housing can also be removed quickly and easily.
The boning knife belongs in the category “special tools”. This robust blade is only used when you want to parry large pieces of meat with skin, tendons, and bones yourself. As a rule, the butcher takes on these tasks.