Brian's Toronto Life Ep.3
What the professionals need from their knives is rather different from home cooks. This isn't to say that home cooks may not consider these same needs but, for a professional cook, how your knife performs day in and day out can affect job performance drastically. For a professional cook, the struggle of learning to keep one’s knives sharp is constant and real.
For younger cooks, the internet is full of conflicting and confusing information about sharpening stones and methods. Most kitchen leaders/chefs want to teach sharpening to their team but something more important always comes up. We hear this constantly while talking to them in the store. To help with this, Tosho offers on-site sharpening demonstrations for restaurants upon request and for payment, we ask the BOH (Back of House) to feed the Tosho team something from their menu. Simple barter transaction, like the good old days. Because of the scheduling and other challenges, we don’t get asked often but luckily, this month, we were invited to the Le Germain Hotel’s kitchen to share our sharpening knowledge.
The demo consists of two parts: knowledge and practice. I try to cover basic knife knowledge as briefly as possible, (I can talk for hours on the subject if not stopped), while answering a myriad of questions involving asymmetry, steel types, knife brands, and sharpening stones.
Then we move on to the practice portion. We get the cooks working with their hands and teach how to sharpen using their own knives.
After visiting over a dozen kitchens in the city, there are a few “Ah-Ha!” moments from the cooks, and I would like to share two from the Le Germain team. First, the concept of stone flattening, and how often it should be done. We say every 5 min of stone usage. Yes, you read that right, every 5 minutes.
Here, I share an anecdote of how I regret not investing in a diamond flattening plate sooner when I was a cook learning to sharpen.
The lesson being, it is far more effective to get a proper flattening plate (not those cheap flattening stones!) which helps you focus on sharpening skills rather than constantly troubleshooting your edge because the stones are not flat enough. Yes, it is expensive to get a diamond plate (and I will never recommend those flattening stones), but it pays off in the end.
Here you can see the cooks using diamond flattening plates being used on the stones before sharpening.
The second is the clear concept of burr and how it relates to edge retention. Even though many cooks have heard of this word, few know exactly what it is, and how it serves as a guide to the whole sharpening process and unlocks the secrets of creating a lasting edge (this really gets their ears perked up!).
It is crucial for the cooks to touch and feel the burr to connect the concept of it to how it feels on their fingertips. Then they can apply that understanding when sharpening their own knives.
We also share the details of deburring technique to help the cooks to create an edge that lasts longer. Normally, they would resort to buying a finer grit stone, so this helps them save money too.
Sous-chef James feeling for the burr on an example blade before passing it on.
The whole demo takes about 2.5 hours, and that covers using two grits of stones as well as honing tools for daily maintenance. The on-site event shows cooks how to sharpen and maintain their tools properly, and having the experts right alongside them makes a big difference in facilitating accelerated learning through giving them real time feedback.
As for the Tosho team, it is incredibly satisfying being in service of the hospitality teams that work hard to serve the greater public.
When I was a cook, it did not even occur to me that sharpening skills could be taught at a workplace.
Yes, the pride and the responsibility of tool maintenance is up to the individual cook, one hundred percent. That being said, creating exciting learning opportunities is up to the kitchen leadership. After all, it is in the best interest of the kitchens to grow and retain their talents.
I am always excited to get the next call to help with creating such an opportunity, and eat good food that accompanies it!
Interested in the demo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and create a memorable team activity.