Some of you may or may not know that I have recently quit working as an Administrative Assistant and begun working as a PA in the food industry. For privacy reasons I can’t talk too much about this, but I can tell you that I need to cook a LOT more these days for work. As you all know, I adore food and cooking but I would hardly consider myself professionally trained! So in order to up my game a little bit, I have started baking and cooking a little more adventurously each weekend in an attempt to get more practice. Additionally, I have been looking up plenty of cooking classes I can do myself on the weekends to help increase my skills. The first class I chose to do was at the Williams Sonoma Cooking School in Bondi Junction. Like many, I flocked excitedly to Bondi Junction around the opening time of Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma – brands I have heard of on many cooking blogs (and let’s admit it, American TV shows) for years but have never had the opportunity to see in real life. I quickly discovered that the Williams Sonoma store also contained a Cooking School with some great sounding classes and decided to read more into it. Much to my delight, I realised they had a knife skills class which was perfect for my new job! Good knife skills are essential to any professional cook and can be quite difficult to learn from Youtube videos, online tutorials or even cooking books. For years my ‘knife skills’ were something I had sort of picked up from my high school Food Tech classes and were well let’s be honest – not great. Not bad, but not great. I had great difficulty getting a neat and fine dice on onions and would watch Iron Chefs on TV slice carrots into the perfect matchsticks and wonder what their secret was. Unfortunately since I’m so busy with work these days its quite difficult for me to take off time to do real pro cooking classes, so you can imagine how happy I was to read this description on the Williams Sonoma Cooking Class Description site:
Essential Knife Skills (3 hours)
Master the art of slicing and dicing like a chef and take your cooking abilities to a completely new level. This course will cover classic cuts such as Brunoise, Julienne, Paysanne, etc. Learn about the different purposes for each knife in the kitchen and learn how to keep your knives and skills sharp! $110 per person includes practical and demonstration cooking session, light meal plus refreshments and all course materials.
Perfect! I signed up immediately and got ready for one of the best cooking classes I’ve attended.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for me??) the knife skills class only had three bookings and two people cancelled at the last minute leaving me one on one with the chef knife skills teacher for the day. Yippee! Nothing better than getting one-on-one training!
My teacher for the day was Chef Hulya Suleyman. If you click the link, you can read a little bit about her background in cooking – she trained at Rockpool and has a huge wealth of information. I was quite excited to have someone so knowledgeable teaching me knife skills!
We started off with going through the typical sorts of knives you will find in a kitchen (or in a regular knife block).
There was the chefs knife, a bread (serrated) knife, a carver, a santoku knife and a paring knife. They also had a funky looking Japanese serrated knife which I believe was a butchers knife used for filleting.
We also had a quick look at some of the best knives on the market today. There was Shun (a Japanese company who used to make samurai swords and now make very high quality kitchen knives in the same style of folding the metal over – if you look closely you can see the lines in the knife!) Global, another Japanese company which makes stainless steel knives with stainless steel handles and finally Wusthof, a German company who also makes very durable and high quality knives. Hulya encouraged me to test out each knife to see which one was the best fit for my hand as it differs for each person. I think I liked Global as the best fit for my hand, but I really enjoyed using the Shun knife as it was very light to handle. I have a Wusthof Chefs knife at home and also find it to be an excellent knife. If you’re looking for a great knife to use at home, I would recommend visiting a good knife shop and testing out the feel of each brand (or similar brands) to see what feels good for you. Keep in mind though these are very expensive knives and you’ll want to make the best choice for you!
We then moved onto the all-important skill of knife sharpening. I remarked that my mother had once bought me one of these knife sharpeners (see image below), but Hulya chuckled and said those knife sharpeners were quite awful and ruined your knives – the whetstone was the best tool for keeping your knives razor sharp without ruining them. Well, time to go home and toss mine out! No more pull through knife sharpeners for me…
Pull through knife sharpener. (image found through google images).
Everyone knows the importance of a sharp knife, not just for safety reasons but also practicality when cutting. To be honest I knew this very much in theory but at home I must admit my knife set is not particularly sharp. I own 1 block of Anolon knives and also 1 Wustof chefs knife which was gifted to me by my lovely brother in law. After doing this knife skills course I truly realised how much more you can do with a sharp knife – many techniques are impossible with a dull knife (cutting carrot matchsticks for example). You really cannot get those paper thin cuts with a dull knife – plus its incredibly dangerous as the knife slips about easily without that sharp edge to it. And you do not want that knife edge going into your hand – even a dull knife can do a lot of damage to our fleshy human hands! Personally, prior to this class, I wasn’t a fan of using that pull through knife sharpener anyway – I was a little bit afraid of using it as it seemed a bit dangerous, plus I wasn’t sure how to use it effectively. I know in the past my Mum had taken her knives to King of Knives to be professionally sharpened, but it was expensive and not to mention I had no clue how to package up my knives to take them to the shops without seeming like some sort of murderer or accidentally tearing through my bag or god forbid some other sort of accident. Hence blunt knives at home! Well no more for me as I picked up a whetstone tout suite and will be using those to get my knives sharp at home from now on!
I got to practice with the whetstone with Hulya showing me the best technique. You hold your knife at a slight angle and bring it up the rougher side of the whetstone (while applying pressure on the knife) and then pull it down back towards you. You know its working when you hear a slight ‘whistling’ sound from the knife. You then switch to the finer side of the whetstone and apply the same technique to even out the rough edges. After refining your knife on the whetstone, give it a couple of minutes of refining on your honing steel to finish it off and you’re all done! A good way to test your knife’s sharpness is by testing it on a piece of paper to get a clear cut.
After practicing sharpening knives on the whetstone we were onto the fun part – chopping!
Chopping into batons.
Thin slices for matchsticks and fine dice.
We went through jardiniere (cutting vegetables into batons), julienne (fine matchsticks), mirepoix (rough dice), paysanne, macedoine (small dice), brunoise (fine dice – one of my faves!) and chiffonade. All definitely very practical cuts I will absolutely be using at home. Again I cannot stress again how impossible any of these cuts would be without a sharp knife. A chef is only as good as the tools he or she is using!
And of course the class wouldn’t be complete without conquering the onion! I am now proud to say that I am now able to cut an onion into a fine dice quite adequately! Another little amazing tip we learned is that if you use a sharp knife, you won’t get that burning sensation in your eyes from the juices the onion releases. A sharp knife won’t perforate those cells in the onion causing them to pour out and burn the heck outta your eyes because it slices through so finely instead of roughly bruising through. I couldn’t believe I was chopping onions finely and felt nothing which has never happened to me before (they always make me cry!!). It was like magic!
We finished off the class by using my newfound knife skills to prepare a Moroccan cous cous salad. It was incredibly easy with our new skills and just a great salad that I know I will be making for lunches time and time again!
Couscous is cooked in citrus juices at room temperature (I had NO idea you cook cook couscous with liquid with no heat!! blew my mind.) and then you add finely chopped vegetables and seasoning.
I loved the freshness of the herbs and sweetness of the dates in this dish. So incredibly simple to prepare and fantastic for a quick lunch or to take on picnics!
My final plate of chopped vegetables! Hard to believe how much I learned after a short three hour class!
Only three hours of this class and I was already feeling much more confident in my chopping skills and keen to get home to practice! Without a doubt it was the most informative and interesting cooking class I’ve ever been to (although keep in mind I’ve been to less than 10 cooking classes in my lifetime!) I have heard that they are thinking about an Advanced Knife Skills which I am keen to attend as it sounds like great fun and I would love to learn more. For $110 with a light meal & refreshments, I think the class price was pretty good value and I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to up their game in the kitchen if you have a couple of hours free on the weekend! The Williams Sonoma class also has many more specialised baking, butchery and more classes I am totally keen to attend. Thanks Williams Sonoma for such a great class!
This is not a sponsored post. Christine @ Cooking Crusade attended and paid for this class herself.