Dancing in the Kitchen

This is about some of the basic rules in the kitchen. We have some experience working in busy commercial kitchens. In one instance at a well-known teaching institution. There, all the work in the kitchen is provided by volunteers. Many are old hands and know the ropes. But there is a revolving door of fresh energy constantly coming through. As you might expect, the general knowledge, skills, and experience working with others varies. This is taken into account and there is a good deal of kindness and charitable consideration for all.

The kitchen is no place to trot out one's neurotic compulsions. No games, please. Especially when there are very sharp knives, power appliances, and hot stuff everywhere.

Safety and cleanliness first.

Then, let's do it right, please.


We were in Williams Sonoma recently watching over a shoulder as a salesman was showing some young couple a too-large (naturally, very expensive) chef's knife. Admittedly, the question over the length of the blade is somewhat subjective; but neophites tend to go for the large blade, as if that somehow confers some culinary powers or cachet. Cachet is a big thing in the upwardly mobile kitchen. But as time goes by experience shows that, no matter how many knives you have collected, day in and day out there are some that get a lot more action than others. Our go-to knives in the kitchen are a firm blade paring knife and an Oriental style usuba with a 7" blade.
If you go for a more conventional design utility knife we recommend 6" to 8". (Most stores will want to sell you 8" and that's fine; we're favoring the smaller size these days.) If you slice a lot of bread and/or tomatoes, a serrated blade is a real joy to have. After that, let your actual needs dictate choices. Those non-slip grip knives (or that kind of grip on any other hand tool) are not Cooky Cat's thing. They feel icky. Do they ever get clean?

And when you use a knife, be sure to keep those fingers tucked, thumb included. There are several training videos. Here is a good starter tutorial. We are not going to dwell on the technique per se. But, we do emphasize safety first and starting from day one to impose proper knife skills on yourself and anyone else you are working with in the kitchen.

Next ...

How to Miso Cut

We would be remiss to not mention the miso style cut. Me so like it! Try as we might, there is no online video for how to miso cut vegetables. Nina Simonds, care to step forward on your video blog Spices of Life? Meanwhile, here goes a word lesson:

Using a carrot for example: Place a peeled, prepped carrot on a cutting board in line with the counter edge, small end on right (for right handed cutting). Begin at the small carrot end, cutting a bite sized piece at a 45 degree diagonal to the axis of the carrot. Next, roll the carrot toward you 1/4 turn and take another bite sized cut as before. Continue to do this until you don't see any carrot as such (silly!), only pieces. That's miso pieces. It "pleases" us. Great in stir fried dishes and soups. Maybe even adjust the size a bit bigger for that crudite at your next posh soirée on the penthouse patio overlooking ... (you can add your particular local loveliness).

The miso cut is easiest with long slender produce like carrots, daikon, or zucchinni squash. Oh, and don't thow away those broccoli stems. Peel thoroughly and use in just about anything savory, raw or cooked. Miso cut? Well, yes. However, once you get the idea for the miso cut, you can go on and do the same for any other appropriate solid flesh vegetable. Mainly, it's in taking the 45 degree angle cut. Also, if you have a more comfortable layout for cutting, go ahead. Just to keep to the required angle and 1/4 turn. The miso cut mantra: cut 45, quarter turn, cut 45 ... .

Aside tip: Try cutting scallion at a sharp angle. Really gives eye appeal. It turns Cooky Cat's head every time. Ultra-thin for garnish, medium to add in at the end of a stir fry, large for cooking in with the main dish.

Safely Moving Around the Kitchen

There's nothing more sobering, shocking, and potentially dangerous than when you are bringing something very hot out of the oven or off the stove top and turn around to find someone standing in your way; or worse, moving in your way. If you are in the vicinity of the cook at the stove, you say "Behind You". Or something short and sweet that communicates that you are there. Make that a religious principle in the kitchen. Or, get the heck out!

Visa versa, if you are moving in the kitchen with something hot or delicate, let 'em know. "Coming Through!" "Heads Up!" "Hot Stuff, Coming Through!"

We are so finnicky about the foregoing, that if you don't get it right here and now about why those kinds of communciations are vital, please leave this article and don't come back to Cooky Cat's kitchen until you are ready to sit at the masters knee. (Lavish gifts, humble prostrations, and abject demeanor will be required. Yet, he may not admit you. So, best to do it right the first time.)


Cooky Cat is a clean kitty. It goes without saying the kitchen, and the tools you use there, should be clean. That would include your hands. A good soap and water scrub before handling food. If you are some traditional grandma who's been cooking for eons, you get a pass. Her hands, though, are always clean. Those kind of hands confer blessings to everything they touch. So, grandma, no need to read further.

We're not done with you though. Listen. Just because you washed your hands doesn't mean you are finished for the duration. If you touch your lips, your skin, your hair—anything that you wouldn't eat from—go to the sink and wash up. Please, no cute comments about eating sushi from a naked belly. We could go off on a whole other tangent on that decadence.

If something falls to the floor, best advice is to toss it out. You are on your own as to when and if there are exceptions. But remember, HE is watching. (Or, SHE, if you are a touchy feminist that has to keep the verbal space even. No letters from feminists, please. Just a little kitting.)

While we're on the subject, can we please do away with all those prissy fingers placing little this's and that's on the plate. Give us a break. We do not want anyone (grandma excepted) touching the food going onto our plate, especially the kind of overly fussing and arranging you sometimes see on cooking shows. If they are doing that on television, imagine what the working reality is in a busy restaurant kitchen. So, use a utensil. Latex gloves, ugh; but, if you must. Just don't fuss over the food anyway! To put a fine point on it, we want to gag up a hair ball every time we see some swell chef dandying up some visual wonder of the world. For us, meat goes there, potatoes there, vegetables there. Salad on a separate plate. And waiter, when we're finished with a course, please TAKE AWAY THE FORK AND BRING US A CLEAN ONE. [Editors apology: We didn't see that coming. Cooky Cat is, as we already pointed out, finnicky. He has his standards. He insists on star treatment. What can we do?]

There is the story told of a Thankgiving dinner in the not too distant old South. The maid brings in the much anticipated turkey from the kitchen to the delight of all the guests seated in the dining room. Without any warning, she drops the golden bird right onto the floor. Just as quickly and without any hesitation, the hostess casually instructs the maid to, "Please, take that back to the kitchen. And, bring in the other one."

Some situations require a suspension of the conventional rules. But, best to keep the dining room floor clean as a whistle.

Finally, here's something that has it all. A kitchen, grandma, cats, dirty dishes, inappropriate use of kitchen items, and some good examples of what not to do in the kitchen. Like—watch for it at the beginning—standing on the sink. And later, blowing into the teapot spout.

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