Knife Skills at Sur La Table

If you recall, 2013 is the year of the chef.

Though I was unsuccessful at signing up for the butchering class a few months ago, ever since my mother-in-law treated me to a cooking class in Denver, I keep my eye out for new culinary experiences.

My mother recently took a tamale-making class at Sur La Table and loved it so much she bought me a gift certificate over the holidays so that I could explore a class of my own.

I ended up picking the Essential Knife Skills class at Sur La Table. I was happy when my mother said she’d like to join me.

As you should (hopefully) know, a chef’s knife is everything in cooking. There’s a reason why Top Chef asks every eliminated chef to pack up their knives and go:

I think it’s also clear that we should be thankful that Padma Lakshmi joined Top Chef, because the Season 1 host (Katie Lee) was tragically mono-tonal.

I’m not going to go into why you need a top quality knife in this post—I may have gasped a little too incredulously when my father-in-law suggested that all knives are created equal.

They’re not.

While this class did go into some knife specifics, including the differences between European (primarily German) knives versus Japanese knives (they have a different shape, edge and weight), the class primarily focused on basic, proper cutting techniques.

Like learning the brunoise.

I had heard the term before, but never put it into practice. The brunoise is a method of dicing vegetables (like carrots) into evenly-shaped cubes. Though used a lot for cooking stocks, this method of cutting is to ensure that all of the vegetables cook evenly.

By the end of the evening we each had a gallon-sized bag of diced onions, garlic, celery, carrots and green onions. Much to the surprise of my mother and I, Some folks opted to leave their vegetables behind (the instructor ensured us it’d be put to good use). Both of us ended up using our veggies to make the best spaghetti sauce you could imagine—and it was a snap, because everything was already diced up. Simply throw all of your vegetables into a large pot with some olive oil, sauté until your onions are translucent, add your tomatoes and other herbs (fresh oregano and basil anyone?) and voila! A tasty (from scratch) nom on a weeknight.

By all accounts, the best part about this class was our parting gift: a Wüsthof®Epicure Paring Knife, 3½”. It’s a beautiful little knife, perfect for cutting strawberries (my breakfast staple for the past couple of months).


Overall the class was enjoyable and I did learn a few things. Unfortunately the problem with most of these classes is that they are targeted to beginners. Short of applying and attending culinary school, I don’t know of any other options out there for folks (like me) seeking a greater challenge.

If you haven’t done much cooking before, I highly recommend taking some of Sur La Table’s classes. The Knife Skills class was great because you can apply those skills to any cuisine. For me, doing prep work like this also has a sort of meditative quality. Perhaps that’s why I don’t have a problem with cooking from scratch each night; I find it’s a great way to decompress after work.

That said, I know that we’re all very busy, and sometimes these classes can get expensive. So to start, try spending a minute and 48 seconds with Anthony Bourdain:

  • Bruce

    And it WAS one heck of a spaghetti sauce!