In Praise of the Knife


It’s 7.30am and I’m thinking about using a knife. Your murderous assumptions aside, cutlery is really what’s on my mind (which I’m sure is clearly normal at this time of the morning). I used to consider my knife as merely a piece to be used on the periphery of the meal. It was more of a “swap fork for  knife, cut with stronger hand, put knife down, use fork, repeat as necessary, if necessary” kind of process. Now, of course, you Brits have shown me the light.

Our parents or guardians tend to be the main teachers of these skills. They instruct, they guide, we watch and we do. Mine use their knife and fork as the above, so of course I followed suit and spent the next 22 years ineptly wandering around my plate, unbeknownst as to what I was missing out on. In fact, this way of eating is more obvious to me now when they come to visit as a fair portion of our activities revolve around food. But I have seen them go through entire meals without using their knives and now, with my baptism into British culture basically complete, I find it rather curious.

Of course, it may seem ridiculous to comment on this; maybe it’s a West Coast thing. Maybe in Denver, Baton Rouge and New York they are as ambidextrous as the English, but I don’t know; I kind of doubt it. I’ve seen a fair amount of my compatriots eat in this manner. In any case, the thing I’ve not been able to impart to my parents is how much they are missing out by feeding themselves this way. Don’t get me wrong; it was a slow process learning to use my knife properly. And even when I did, with my fork in my right hand and knife in my left, I’m still arse backwards, but at least a lot closer than many others from the homeland.

Of course, eating without a knife is inefficient. It creates an additional unnecessary step that could be avoided and thus keeping the flow of one’s meal intact and as the cook intended. But most importantly, without it actual tasting becomes disjointed. It is impossible to try all the flavours of a dish, be it a roast dinner, spaghetti Bolognese, or poached eggs on toast, if you are just stabbing at it with your fork. A little bit of roast potato loses its impact when eaten separately to its neighbouring slice of beef, where it only receives a token drenching of gravy. The meat in your ragú goes from being the star of the show to playing second fiddle, and my god, don’t get me started on missing every little bit of the precious runny egg yolk which saturates your sourdough. That damn knife needs to be there. It is essential.  

Perhaps I am overanalysing this. Maybe I should just assume everyone eats the best way they know how. Surely Asians are not frustrated by runny egg yolks and their futile attempts to eat them with chopsticks. But then again….they very well might be.

Arm yourselves, people. Use that knife for a purpose higher than just cutting and don’t miss out on getting the very best out of a meal. You’ve been supplied with the easiest of tools to make it possible and your palate will be forever grateful.

Post script: My mom emailed me earlier this week. Turns out she is converted. Now, only to get my dad on board….


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