Once you have fire, you need steel. For a man, knives are the essential tools for cooking. You can collect colanders, measuring cups, mixers and graters all you want, but a great knife says it all, even if the closest you get to cooking is carving the roast at the table.
All manner of blade specialization exists, but Cary Savona, executive chef at Lucca in the Boca Raton Resort and Club, says home chefs can manage with three basic knives. The chef's knife (a wide blade about eight inches long) carves, chops and dices. The bread knife has a serrated blade, six to nine inches long, for slicing meat and fine vegetables. The shorter, thinner boning knife is not only an all-purpose blade, but will win style points and save money on butcher bills when you learn to debone chickens and legs of lamb. Another popular knife is the carving blade with slots on the side that let the meat release from the blade and fall away.
Classic German knives, such as J.A. Henckels (pictured foreground, www.jahenckels.com) and Wüsthof (background, www.wusthof.com), use high-carbon forged-steel blades and have a hefty feel. Japanese knives are typically lighter. The steel in MAC (www.macknife.com), Global (www.sointuusa.com) and Kasumi (www.kasumiusa.com) knives is alloyed with molybdenum. Most great knives have a full tang—the metal extension of the blade in the handle—for better balance and strength. However, Global uses a hollow handle filled with sand.
Knife care is paramount. Start by wiping them clean after each use to remove acids. Never use a dishwasher. The constant movement nicks them and, worse, the soaking can loosen the rivets that hold the tang. Above all, quips Savona, "don't let your knives get duller than your night life." Then concentrate on honing your technique. Let the knife do the work and maintain a relaxed stance. Don't hack away like some invading Visigoth. Carve in long, firm horizontal strokes. When chopping, anchor the tip on the cutting board for stability and cut back at the target. Savona says hearing can be as important as vision: "If the onion crunches, the knife needs sharpening."