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New Articles: Buying Kitchen Knives and Uncommon Origins of the Common Fork

Here are links to a couple of articles I’ve written recently.

The Hungry Beast is host to “The Perfect Use for Deadly Weapons,” a piece on how to buy quality kitchen knives. The Hungry Beast is the food section of The Daily Beast, Tina Brown’s news ‘n’ gossip site, a more salacious Slate.com. I’m not wild about the title they attached to the article, but it does have some good takeaway information if you are in the market to outfit your kitchen. I hope to be writing for the site semi-regularly so give them a look.

The Uncommon Origins of the Common Fork appeared on Leite’s Culinaria. The history of the fork is surprisingly controversial.

When we pick up a dinner fork we rarely think about how or why it came to be. Using it is as natural as using our own hands. But the fork is a relative newcomer to the table, appearing many centuries, even millennia, after the knife and spoon. The fork’s short and rocky history is the story of the evolution of etiquette and table manners. It’s also the story of how a doomed Byzantine princess, a French Cardinal disgusted by his dinner guests, and an intrepid English traveler forever changed the way western society eats.

Okay, that didn’t go well

A combination of a rocky WordPress upgrade, a corrupt database file, and somewhat lax backup practices means that I’ve lost all of 2009’s data. Anything I’ve posted and any comments received since December of 2008 are somewhere off in the ether. They are most definitely not in the database they used to call home.

I’ll rebuild the posted information over the coming days and weeks, but, man, what a pain in the butt.

The new theme is kind of cool, though. The header picture will become a stream of more relevant shots when I get around to figuring out how to do that.

I’m in the midst of a new project, too, so this is actually a good time to transition the website over into an ongoing document of our family’s attempt to spend an entire year eating everything from scratch — no cans, no boxes, no partially hydrogenated anything. Here’s the summary:

Our family eats well. Even Friday pizza night  often involves homemade tomato sauce and freshly risen pizza dough. Still, like a lot of families, especially families with kids, we frequently rely on processed food from cans, jars, boxes or the freezer case, food with lengthy lists of unpronounceable and sometimes scary ingredients, food jammed full of high fructose corn syrup and too much salt and fat. Crap food tarted up with whatever vitamin or antioxidant is fashionable at the moment. While we are as time strapped as any modern family, we wanted to try to reduce or eliminate that dependence on convenience foods.

Scratch will document our suburban family of four’s attempt to spend a year cooking from scratch. No processed foods. No boxes. No cans. No jars. No high fructose corn syrup or partially-hydrogenated anything. Everything from homemade stock for soup to not-so-obvious items like breakfast cereal, peanut butter, and snack chips will have to be prepared from scratch, preferably from local or seasonal ingredients. Unlike other books on similar topics, our family lives in a densely populated suburb. We cannot grow our own food except by outwitting the Homeowners Association. We shop at the grocery store like everybody else. And the focus of Scratch is not the evils of the global food systems but the challenge of changing a modern diet of convenience foods while still getting the kids to basketball practice.

By taking cooking from scratch to the extreme, Scratch will track the real costs – both monetary and time involved – of preparing food by hand. The book will explore what it is really like for an ordinary suburban family to cook from nothing more than basic ingredients – the benefits, the frustrations, the things that a family can reasonably do at home, and those things that should be left to professionals. The challenge also will provide an opportunity to address obesity, increasing food allergies, type 2 diabetes and other diet-related illnesses – all products of the modern diet of processed foods. It will be instructive, enlightening, and if I know my family, parts of it should be very funny.

Thanks for sticking with me. I’ll try and at least get video & article links up soon.

Slate’s Best Books of 2008

I promise I’ll stop with the shameless self promotion shortly and get back to knife and kitchen topics, but this is just too wonderful. The online magazine Slate.com has named An Edge in the Kitchen one of the Best Books of 2008. Sara Dickerman, who does most of their food related writing, said, in part,

It’s hard to deny the lyric beauty of this year’s superchef monographs from Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, and Heston Blumenthal. But I crave pragmatic advice in the kitchen and so recommend An Edge in the Kitchen, by Chad Ward. Ward’s knife guide is brash, bossy, and full of good counsel.

I’m a big fan of Slate, so this completely blew my mind.

Chicago Tribune’s Best of 2008 Food Books!

Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune Food section listed their top food books for 2008, including “An Edge in the Kitchen.” Yay! Clicking the link in my name took me to a Sept. 10 review by Bill Daley, Tribune critic. I particularly appreciated this:

“An Edge in the Kitchen,” whose subtitle is “The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives,” has the confident and almost sassy voice of its author, Chad Ward. He’s a writer and cook who offers an online knife sharpening class on eGullet.org. Ward is passionate; he knows his stuff and wants you to know it too.

A Chef’s Table with Jim Coleman, WHYY

Sorry for the lack of attention to the blog lately. I’m finishing up the proposal for my next book, which has kept me away from just about everything else. Things will be back on schedule shortly.

A couple of months ago I was interviewed on WHYY’s A Chef’s Table with Jim Coleman. Jim is a working chef who really gets down to the nuts and bolts of cooking and food trends. If your local public radio station doesn’t carry A Chef’s Table, it’s also available as a podcast.  Jim’s show isn’t as widely available as The Splendid Table, and public radio stations that carry one don’t carry the other, which is a shame, but the show is a lot of fun and a great resource. My interview aired on the August 9, 2008 show and happens about 18:45 into the show. Here is a direct link to the audio (Real Media file).

Chicken Breakdown 101 (Mike Pardus)

Chef Mike Pardus is a CIA instructor, one of Michael Ruhlman’s early mentors, and a frequent contributor to Bob del Grosso’s A Hunger Artist blog. He has posted a series of three videos detailing the proper way to break down a chicken, one of the most important things any cook should know. He does a great job with the videos. I was planning my own chicken video, but his are so good that mine would just be redundant. So here they are:

Mike Pardus’s Chicken 101 video 1

Chicken 101 video 2

Chicken 101 video 3

There you go, folks. That’s how it’s done. Emancipate yourself from bland, flavorless chicken breasts. Buy a whole chicken! It’s is fairly simple to break one down with a little practice, and the a whole chicken is usually six or seven times less expensive per pound. Remember to save the carcass for stock.

Splendid Table Interview Available

My interview with Lynne Rossetto Kasper on The Splendid Table is now available online. It aired 8/22 and 8/23 (depending on your local public radio station). You can listen on The Splendid Table’s website. Just click the link above. If you have RealAudio installed, here’s the direct link to the audio. Or if you are an iTunes subscriber, I’m on the Saturday 8/22/08 episode. My interview comes at the 22:25 mark. I thought it went very well. Lynne is just as warm and gracious as she sounds on the air.

Sara Moulton Reviews “An Edge in the Kitchen”

Sara Moulton, executive chef of Gourmet magazine, author of Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals, and host of Sara’s Secrets on PBS, has written a very kind review of An Edge in the Kitchen on her website.

My favorite line:

A lot of knife wisdom served with a splash of wit and a sprinkle of trivia make this a book you’ll want to read from cover to cover as well as to prop up by your knife block.

I interviewed Sara for the book. She’s a real sweetheart and a lot of fun to talk to. I can tell you that Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals is one of the most dogeared, wine stained books in my collection. My kids have loved everything I’ve made from it. Stop by Sara’s website to say hi, tell her she has great taste in knife books 😛 and check to make sure your local PBS station is carrying her show.

Technique of the Week: The Onion Cheat

Classic onion technique
The classic technique of making a series of horizontal slices across an onion intimidates some people. That’s why there is the Onion Cheat. This was referred to as the Quarter Roll Trick in the book because you start with an onion quarter rather than a half. It’s a little slower than the classic technique but for home prep no one will know the difference.


As always, cut the stem end off the onion, leaving the root intact. The root will hold everything together and keep your onion pieces from skittering all over the cutting board. Turn the onion onto its now flat stem end and cut in half through the root, then peel. Cut each half into quarters, again from root to stem.

Vertical slices in a quarter onion
Working your way across the onion, make a series of vertical cuts, pulling the tip of the knife down through the onion from root to stem without cutting through the root.

The Onion Cheat step 2


It only takes four or five cuts.

Now comes the cool part.
Step 3
Roll the onion over onto its other side. The vertical cuts you made before are now horizontal. Make the same series of vertical cuts on this side of the onion.

Cut across for perfect dice
And when you cut across the onion it falls into a perfect dice. Neat, huh?

Review on Roots & Grubs from Matthew Amster-Burton

Seattle food writer Matthew Amster-Burton has posted a very kind review of An Edge in the Kitchen on his blog, Roots and Grubs. I like Matthew’s writing a lot. Definitely spend some time exploring his essays on food and fatherhood. Matthew’s shoestring fries were the inspiration for me to start experimenting with my own french fry style, which ended up in the Knife Skills Workout section of my book. Thanks, Matthew!