Dear Test Kitchen

5 Knife Skills You Need to Know, According to Jacques Pépin

This week's episode of Dear Test Kitchen.

by:
May 24, 2019

In this week’s episode of Dear Test Kitchen, legendary chef Jacques Pépin—author of dozens of bestselling cookbooks and winner of 24 James Beard Awards—joins our Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen to teach a class on...drumroll, please...

Knife skills!

And even Josh, a professionally trained chef, learned a handful of useful tricks. As Jacques says, “If you keep your mind open, then you’ll always learn something.”


Jacques Pépin's Knife Skills 101

Here are five of the most important takeaways from Jacques’s course:

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Top Comment:
“I love his teaching style and I’ve just learned a heck of a lot more on how to both improve and fine tune my knife skills. ”
— SandraH
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1. Pay more attention to your non-dominant hand.
Here’s how to position your hands while cutting: With your dominant hand, hold the knife not at the base, but right where the blade meets the handle (or where the center of the knife’s weight is). According to Jacques, this hand is “just a dummy.” The other hand, on the other hand (sorry), “orders everything around.” Which is to say: It guides where your knife goes and determines the size of each cut.

2. Speaking of your non-dominant hand…
Don’t forget to tuck in those fingers to keep them safe while chopping: Your thumb and pinky should go behind the other three fingers, which, when curled into a knuckle, will be nice and protected as you chop, chop, chop.

3. Three is the perfect number.
“I probably have about 300 [knives] at home,” Jacques says, but even he admits that you only really need these three:

  • An 8-inch chef’s knife for everyday chopping (e.g., chopping onions and herbs).
  • A paring knife for all of the little things (e.g., peeling fruits and vegetables).
  • A thinner, longer knife, “the one in between,” for other all-purpose things.

4. What most people think of as a knife sharpener doesn’t actually sharpen a knife.
The blade edge of your knife is made of “teeth.” Cutting, over time, makes these individual teeth go “out of whack” (Jacques’s words). To realign them, use a honing steel (one of those long, blunt, sword-looking things). Don’t forget to apply pressure while pressing the blade against the steel and, in one single motion, run the entire edge of the knife from top to bottom.

5. Adjust your motion based on what you’re cutting.
My number-one takeaway from Jacques’s knife skills class is that each ingredient in the kitchen requires not just a different knife, but also a different motion. Watch the video above to see exactly how Jacques peels and chops all of these things:

  • A cucumber
  • An apple
  • A tomato
  • A grapefruit
  • A baguette
  • An onion
  • Garlic
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • A carrot
  • A potato

(And don’t miss his tutorial for how to make a flower garnish out of tomato skin.)

What has Jacques Pépin taught you over the years? Tell us in the comments below.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Eric Kim is the Senior Editor and 'Table for One' columnist at Food52. Formerly the Digital Manager of FoodNetwork.com, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson Kim. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway.

18 Comments

B2 June 16, 2019
So delightful and very informative! I could watch this on a loop over and over again. Jacques is always amazing and Josh is adorable in the way he is also learning from the master.
Thank you Food52, you are killin' it!
 
Marilyn M. June 15, 2019
Does this video have sound? The sound on my iPhone is at full volume but I don’t hear anything.
 
Julia C. June 14, 2019
In ancient days, I once assisted Chef at a food thing in Santa Monica. He demonstrated his great chicken fabricating technique but what I took away and use so often is the folding a parchment into 6 triangle , chopping off the end to get a perfect circle..... a true genius technique! As charming as ever. Chef Jacques is a treasure.
 
Desire C. June 14, 2019
I FOUND THIS SO INTERESTING AND DELIGHTFULL THANK YOU
 
[email protected] June 14, 2019
I would love love ❤️ if Chief Pépin would share with us how exactly he saves all the scraps in a large ? Container in the freezer and then CUTS off what he needs ? For soup stock ? And what that looks like , exactly? Love you guys at Food 52 😊😊😊
 
Smalmei June 13, 2019
I am so impressed that you had Jacques Pepin on your site! He is totally the master. I learn from him every time I see and hear him. Jacques is a treasure. Thx
 
Rosalie June 13, 2019
So wonderful finally at 75 I know how to use a knife Jacque was great
 
Denise T. June 13, 2019
Thank you ! That was SO informative! How lucky we are to have a living Master Chef like JP teach us FOR FREE on your website! Thank you Again. Loved it.
 
tycho52 June 13, 2019
Not only was this video very educational, but it was highly entertaining and fun to watch.
 
Erin May 31, 2019
Super clear video that left me with some great concrete tips! Where can I find the episode on food scraps that is mentioned in one of the annotations?
 
Josh C. June 11, 2019
Hi Erin, here is the link to the food scraps video (https://food52.com/blog/24053-how-to-use-food-scraps-easy-recipes-dear-test-kitchen)
 
Josh C. June 11, 2019
All of the videos live on this link here (https://food52.com/tags/dear-test-kitchen)
 
SandraH May 27, 2019
Thank you for this wonderful video of Jacques Pepin. I love him! He and Pierre Franey were the first two “gourmet” chefs I tried recipes from as a young home cook in the seventies. I love his teaching style and I’ve just learned a heck of a lot more on how to both improve and fine tune my knife skills.
 
Jo-ann O. May 26, 2019
Absolutely wonderful! You are a lucky man Josh!
 
Lev B. May 25, 2019
Regarding the title - skill is something you have, not know.
 
monica May 24, 2019
Jaques Pépin re: washing chicken:
I've heard he said don't bother to wash, because if something could survive in a 400° oven for an hour, it deserved to kill him.
 
theo23rd May 25, 2019
Actually what he said was, If it can survive, it deserves to live! It's on Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, the chicken episode.
 
Smaug May 24, 2019
This stuff is straightforward enough- though I don't agree that a proper (albeit rarely seen in cooking) edge is made of teeth- but Pepin's actual knife skills are from another planet and would be very difficult to imitate. When I've seen him (on TV) he's generally using a funny little knife- looks like about a 6 1/2" chef's knife- with astounding precision.