Story by Monisha Saldanha

I’m a passionate cook but totally self-taught, so I always have this sneaking suspicion that I’m doing something wrong in the kitchen. Even if what I create tastes and looks good enough, I wonder whether I could have made something even tastier and better presented if I just had a little basic knowledge. Recipease offers a knife skills course that has been booked out for months – finally I found an evening class that was free and signed myself and my friend Anne Boucnik up. We attended the 7:30PM class on Friday 14th August, which made for a refreshing change from the usual drinks at a pub after work.

We were greeted at the door by supervisor Emily Butler who seemed absolutely delighted to find out we were attending the knife skills class. She gave us a yummy sample of the Easy-to-Go Recipease lasagne – a great option for busy people, as it took me 5 hours to make from scratch when I followed a recipe at home.

Our class was taught by Martyn Rose, formerly of Fishworks, one of my favourite chain restaurants. As a Food Champion, Martyn teaches all sorts of classes at Recipease and helps answer questions on the shop floor. I asked Martyn why he thought the classes were worthwhile: “There’s nothing like learning face to face. People can ask questions, and I can watch and help correct them if I see something they could be doing better.” But what about experienced cooks? “Even if people learn one new thing, they feel like it’s worthwhile,” he says.

I was pleasantly surprised to be given a glass of wine to start before the lesson. Although part of me wondered if this was wise – I would be handling a sharp instrument after all. “Martyn must believe in us,” said Anne as she sipped from her glass. Someone believes in me! I felt more confident already, and even better after a bit more wine.

Over the next two hours we learned loads! I finally found out how to properly sharpen a knife with a steel (and over the weekend, I actually dug out the steel that had been languishing in the drawer and sharpened my 12 inch chefs knife). Martyn demonstrated the proper technique for chopping, which involved a rock’n’roll motion so the knife is always in contact with the board, and holding the food securely with your hands and feeding it towards the blade (a bit like moving paper through a paper shredder).

Anne said, “I didn’t realise there was a cutting spot on a knife. I always used the top of the knife.” Martyn tutted. I giggled. Silly Anne. Like I knew any better – my technique had been moving the knife up and down like a guillotine. Good thing none of my fingers had lost their tips! I’m a much safer chopper now that I’ve learned the proper technique.

We cut carrots, cabbage, and pears into thin strips to make a gorgeous cole slaw, finished off with a dollop of homemade mayonnaise, which is surprisingly easy to make. Martyn looked at me with concern as I ate a few teaspoons of neat mayonnaise: “Save some for the cole slaw,” he suggested. We completed the evening lesson by making bruschetta, which is a great snack or starter.

A lovely couple also attended the course with us – Helen Cooke and Jason Rattos. We got to chatting as we sat around a lovely wooden table, enjoying our bruschetta and cole slaw with a final glass of wine. Helen said, “Don’t I know you from someplace?” After a bit of Q&A, we figured out she used to be a member of my tennis club (as is Anne), but stopped as she got too busy. A small world indeed. Helen said, “Cutting has become so easy, after what Martyn showed us, especially the onions.” Jason added, “I’ll definitely make the bruschetta again after seeing how easy it is.” We all not only enjoyed ourselves but learned a lot – and we’ve planned to reunite again to take the pasta class which sounds simply delicious. It’s amazing how things that seem very difficult can actually be quite simple to learn, when you have a good teacher, the support of friends new and old, and a glass of wine for courage!

About the author: Monisha Saldanha works on Jamie Oliver's web team. “It’s the best job ever, combining my love of food and the internet. Couldn’t ask for more!” she says.

More about knife skills:
Knowing how to use a knife is one of the most important skills you can master. Learn the basics of using a knife to find out how to prepare ingredients in all sorts of fantastic, creative ways. Using the season's freshest, tastiest ingredients, you'll learn to make a seasonal dish from scratch trying out some really useful and interesting preparation techniques and practising your basic knife skills. Then everyone sits down together with a glass of wine to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Sign up here

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