Ask any New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall and he'll tell you: "Practice, practice, practice!" This old-but-good gag flashed through my mind as a small cube of onion flipped up and hit me on the nose. I was trying to retain a healthy sense of humour, then several more chunks of onion spilt over the edge of the work surface and onto my shoes. With shavings of shredded cabbage, sliced carrot and julienne potatoes scattered all over my kitchen, it looked like a scene from the reality TV show "When Vegetarians Lose it Big Time". It wasn't, though, it was just me trying to use the Cooks Quarters mandoline.
There were times - like this one - when I seriously considered giving the mandoline a taste of its own medicine, by slicing it up into crinkle-cut smithereens with a blunt axe and stuffing it into the bin. But since I suspected that perseverance is the key, I grabbed hold of a turnip and soldiered on. The knives in the knife block seemed to mock me with their gracefully ergonomic handles and sleek, sharp blades, but I was undaunted. You see, the mandoline is an essential piece of kit in many a professional kitchen. And providing you get the hang of using one, it could transform yours.
When you get perfectly measured vegetable batons in a restaurant, it's not a robotic automaton of a commis chef who meticulously churns them out. It's a mandoline. Not a mandolin (that's a string instrument), a mandarin (erm, that's an orange) or even a madeleine (you know that's a little cake, right?). Professional mandolines are expensive, but at Dh129, the Cooks Quarters model is relatively cheap and practical.
Made from black plastic and stainless steel, it consists of a long frame with two plates - a blade with a straight and a serrated edge, and a bearing plate that's adjustable to determine the thickness of your slices. There's also a removable plastic safety guard that spikes your vegetables securely, and protects your fingers when slicing. And inside a little grey case are three julienne blades of varying sizes, which can be slotted in between the main blade and the bearing plate. A stand unfolds beneath the main frame and it's soon securely upright at a slant and ready to go.
Although the stand is equipped with non-slip rubber grommets, I placed it on a damp towel for extra stability, with a plate slipped underneath the contraption to catch the chopped vegetables. As I eventually discovered, long, firm and steady strokes are what's needed to produce evenly sliced vegetables (almost) every time. Wafer-thin crinkle-cut potatoes, delicate little French Fries, julienne carrots, pleasingly symmetrical apple slices - you name it, after a couple of hours I was producing it.
Practice was making as close to perfect as I was ever going to get. Cooks Quarters Mandoline, Dh129 from all branches of Stokes: Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi, Tel: 02 443 7369; Dubai Festival City, Tel: 04 232 9251; Dubai Uptown Mirdiff, Tel: 04 288 8573. @email:firstname.lastname@example.org