'Everybody has a different style and technique for how they sharpen their knives," says Jeff Thurston, executive chef at the Prado in Balboa Park. For hard German steel knives like Wüsthof or Henckels (brands used by professional chefs), Thurston prefers to use oilstones in a tri-stone sharpening system. "There are three different grits of stone, from the very coarse, which works down metal on the edge, to the fine grit, where it polishes the edge. For Japanese knives -- or carbon steel knives, where the steel is softer -- I tend to use a Japanese water stone, which is a finer grade of stone that doesn't work off as much metal as the grittier stones." On Saturday, January 7, Brian Menzies, a representative of the nearly 200-year-old knife-making company Wüsthof-Trident, will conduct a knife-sharpening clinic at Macy's School of Cooking in Mission Valley.
Wüsthof defines honing tools as "Edge-maintenance devices that, when employed on a frequent basis, keep the cutting edge of a knife in proper alignment...you cannot do harm [to the knife] if you [properly] hone prior to or after every use of the knife." A section in "Wüsthof's Comprehensive Guide on Honing and Sharpening" explains: "If a knife goes for longer periods of time without any care at all, the tendency is to want to catch up by performing a more vigorous honing (perhaps by applying added pressure and far-more-than-usual strokes). This is where things tend to get a bit overdone."
When honing, "always pull the knife toward you, never in a back-and-forth motion," and keep the knife at a 20-degree angle. Wüsthof's guide suggests between six to ten strokes on each side of the blade, but stresses, "Whatever the number, it is important to remember that the same number of strokes are applied to each side."
Knife sharpening is recommended about once a year for the average home chef. "Only a diamond-coated, rod-shaped sharpener can truly be considered a 'sharpening' device, since it has the capability of removing steel from the blade as opposed to simply realigning the edge," states the guide.
According to Steve Bottorff, author of Sharpening Made Easy, there are many ways to test the sharpness of a knife, ranging from "cutting silk to chopping trees." Some shave a hair from the back of their bare arm to determine sharpness. In the first chapter of his book, Bottorff advises, "Testing by shaving can be misleading if the blade has a burr or wire edge. Steel naturally forms a burr -- a thin, bendable projection on the edge -- during the sharpening process. A blade with a burr will shave but will not stand up to hard use. To test for a burr, slide your fingertips lightly from the side of the blade over the edge. You will feel the burr against your fingers. Test from both sides, because burrs are usually bent over one way or the other."
Wüsthof representatives strongly suggest having your knives professionally sharpened rather than purchasing an electric home-sharpening device. Prior to the section of the guide that covers this topic is a tip: "Three words on the infamous knife 'sharpeners' that are found on electric can openers: 'Don't use them!' There is no faster way to ruin a knife...any knife."
With regard to professional services, Wüsthof explains that "while prices will vary, you should expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $10 each, depending on the size of the knife. Some services charge by the inch, others simply on a flat rate. More experienced services will also be able to perform light repair on knives that may have small chips or dents."
The frequency of a knife's honing and sharpening should be proportionate to that of the knife's use. Thurston, who uses his knives all day, every day, sharpens them once a week. "A sharp knife is a safe knife," he says. "I hone every half-hour to 15 minutes. You really want to make sure your edge is fine-tuned when you're doing work." Thurston sharpens his own knives. "For me, a knife tends to be a very personal extension for a chef."
After the demonstration at the knife-sharpening clinic, Menzies will sharpen up to two knives per person for free. Unlike the majority of classes and clinics at Macy's School of Cooking, there will be no food service. "We usually do a cooking demonstration, but [Menzies] is not a chef," says a Macy's rep. "He loves to do the sharpenings, though." -- Barbarella
Saturday, January 7
Noon to 2 p.m.
Macy's School of Cooking, Macy's Mission Valley
1555 Camino de la Reina (Mission Valley Shopping Center)
Info: 619-299-9811 ext. 4233