Sunday, January 30, 2011

A knife skills class at Appetite for Books

Last Monday, Laurent and I took a knife skills class at Appetite for Books. Most Montreal foodies are probably familiar with this Westmount bookstore, which is a true haven for people who love all things culinary:

1. They sell nothing but cookbooks and food-themed non-fiction.
2. There is a working kitchen inside the store (literally in the same room as the books).
3. The owner, Jonathan Cheung, is a trained chef, and regularly hosts classes, as well as demonstrations with personalities of the food world.

You can check out their classes and events on their website. It’s worth a look, although you usually have to register pretty early in the season to nab a spot – a sign that the food scene is getting pretty crowded around here.

We had already followed the Level 1 Knife class last fall. I can say without any exaggeration that that class completely changed my behaviour in the kitchen. I used to absolutely loathe chopping things, and usually delegated that task to Laurent. But after two hours of learning how to properly hold a knife and use it on a variety of fruit and vegetables (from onions to grapefruit), and after bringing home my brand-new chef’s knife (included in the cost of the class), I now actually enjoy cutting up ingredients into little tiny pieces. And I’m at least twice as fast as I used to be (keeping in mind that I really had no technique before that).

The Level 2 class, which we took last week, was a little more down-and-dirty: we learnt how to debone a whole chicken. Each student had to bring in two whole chickens – so Laurent and I had four birds between us. We were each given a boning knife, and got to work. (And, yes, I forgot to bring my camera that day – not that I could have taken a lot of shots, being wrist-deep in raw chicken.)

For some reason, I’d been under the impression that we would be using big-ass butcher knives, and I have to admit that the cheesy action flick fan in me was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to bring home a small hatchet. However, the knife we did use was probably more practical and versatile, albeit less visually impressive.

It turns out deboning a chicken is more about knowing the anatomy of the bird and following the bone than it is about brute strength and chopping stuff off. It takes a bit of practice before you can get to the point where you can cleanly scrape everything off the carcass and not waste anything. We also filletted some small fish, which is also definitely an acquired skill. However, I haven’t really had a chance to practice at home, because… we took our four now-boneless chickens home with us – with the carcasses on the side. So, no buying poultry for a while.

This is what our freezer looked like on Monday night:

Maybe it’s just me, but I am not in the habit of keeping that much raw meat in my freezer. My freezer is usually filled with homemade soups, bread, veggies, ice cream, and the occasional leftover stew (this month’s Daring Cooks’ cassoulet is in there somewhere). And, ok, some harder-to-find meats like shabu-shabu lamb. And, apparently, way too many frozen shrimp, because Laurent spotted a bargain a few of weeks ago. But I am not used to opening the freezer door and thinking an entire family was slaughtered and hidden away in there.

Since then, the carcasses gave birth to an amazing stock, and one chicken was cooked alla cacciatore. Tomorrow, there will be a giant curry, and that should take care of that. And then I can finally practice!


  1. Oh how cool, sounds like a great class to participate in.

  2. WHO HOO! Nothing like practicing one's knife skills. Being a Foods teacher at school has given me TONS of opportunity to hone my knife skills. Kids are in awe as I talk and slice or chop like Martin Chan!

  3. I taught myself knife skills via Jacques Pepin's classic techniques video. You should have seen me running back and forth to the TV, knife in hand, all slippery with chicken goo lol However, i boned a whole chicken perfectly, stuffed it, and now I can joint one into 8 pieces without rippung it to shreds or someone asking 'Uhh..what part of the chicken is this?'. I so want to invade your freezer and grab some of those bags of chicken parts! Sounds like you guys are having so much fun, and definitely eating well for it :)

  4. I love those classes!! That's is very useful too! If you don't use your knives correctly, that would be a real shame!

    Good for you & thanks for sharing, Valérie!

  5. Your freezer picture is funny, but it's good to hear you're working your way through it!
    I have a boning knife I bought when I was in cooking school (I won't even admit how long ago that was), but I never use it. I really should, but I don't eat enough meat to make it worthwhile. I guess I could always send you my boned chickens, right?
    I've never heard of Appetite for Books, but I'll definitely be going next time I'm in Montreal--thanks for the tip!

  6. I so envy you having access to that type of class. It sounds as though you learn and enjoy them at the same time. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  7. DO you know wives with knives? She is a Montreal Blogger!!!