How important are a good set of knives to the average at-home cook? How much should you spend and how should you care for them?
How to buy and care for knives
Ask to see a professional chef's kit, and they will show you a set of at least four or five knives of supreme quality, each with its own specific purpose and each sharpened to precise perfection. But how important are a good set of knives to the average at-home cook? How much should you spend and how should you care for them?
According to Scott Price, the executive chef at the Hilton Dubai Creek, how much you spend on your knives depends on how much time you spend in the kitchen and what you're going to be using the knives for. "A good vegetable or chopping knife is probably the most essential bit of kit for the at-home chef. That and a good peeler," he says. "The best advice I can give is to buy the best that you can afford,because you're going to be using them a lot. The sharper your knives are the better and faster you can do your work."
He relies on a set of five knives, made by Kin, Glestain, Tamahagane, and (his favourite) "a little Takayuki Damascus", all from Japan. "They've been handmade with high-quality metal, he says. "Because of this, they are very expensive, but as long as they are looked after, they will stay razor sharp and will last a lifetime."
To prolong the life of your knife, Alexander Stumpf, the senior sous chef at Zuma in Dubai, says that care and maintenance are key. "Never just throw your knives into a drawer," he warns. "The best way to care for your knife is in a wooden cover which is made according to your knife or in a fitted wooden block. It should also be sharpened at a professional knife sharpener. People can ruin the blade when sharpening knives at home and it will make a huge difference in the way and ease of cutting and the final product. It's the difference between riding a bicycle and driving a Ferrari."
Stumpf, whose favourite blade is the medium vegetable knife from the German brand Frederick Dick, recommends that when choosing a knife, the most important thing is comfort and size. "You must feel the knife is the right one for you. And don't buy one without knowing what its purpose will be."
Scott agrees that comfort is important, as is the quality of the metal. "This determines how sharp the knife is and how long it will stay sharp for." He recommends sharpening a knife before its first use and cleaning and drying the blade thoroughly to prevent any rust."
"And don't drop them," adds Stumpf. "Keep them separate, clean and dry."
In terms of local suppliers, both chefs recommend the specialist shops in Dubai Mall, particularly the Zwilling JA Henckels shop on the lower ground floor, which stocks ranges by Zwilling, Henckels, Arcos and Miyabi and where a professional-standard heavy-duty peeling knife will set you back around Dh175.
Ayman al Moukdad, the store's manager, recommends that customers seek in-store advice before parting with their money. "We will assess the needs of the customer before advising them on the best knife for them," he says. "We won't sell a customer something unsuitable for their uses."
Price also rates the British brand Global (www.globalknives.co.uk). "They're not too expensive but still very efficient. They're a good choice for keen home cooks." Alternatively, he says, invest in a boxed set of knives, which will cover all the needs of the home kitchen. For one of those, you can expect to pay from Dh850 to Dh3,000.