smoked paprika & other tales from the kitchen

Ramblings about cooking, culture and other clutter together with the occasional recipe borrowed from 'proper' cooks poorly transcribed for your culinary enjoyment. NB- All the links are intended to be relevant, interesting, amusing or educational - but I cannot be responsible for any content linked to from this site as the web is strange place and things change.

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Location: Manchester, United Kingdom

Friday, September 29, 2006

The West Wing, Kitchen Knives And Blue Catering Plasters

"And I believe I'll use capital, lower-case, or Sanskrit, right up until the moment the Font Police cuff me and read me Miranda." -Josh Lyman, The West Wing

So how do we get from a belting quote from Josh in The West Wing, referring to being ticked off for using capital letters when responding to a entry on a fan forum about him, to cooking?

Well (and stay with me) …. one thing about cooking is your knives. A good set of knives to a budding cook are as precious/important as a good tool box is to someone who likes DIY (and apparently such people do exist). Years ago, working in the staff restaurant of the Reading Post Office depot on Caversham Road, I remember slicing tomatoes with a knife that had seen better days and proceeded to nearly lop the top of a finger off when the blade slipped. Being strangely squeamish when it comes to my own blood I nearly passed out – but all I really remember was the chef in the background saying ‘it ain’t sharp knives that cut you, it’s blunt ones’ as I tried to stay on my feet.

Of course, I’d rather he’d be telling someone where the first aid box was - but I'll let slide the fact that Chef had endangered the wellbeing of a novice 17 year old catering temp (who was simply trying to slice beef tomatoes as instructed) because, as the the blood flow was being stemmed by a kindly kitchen employee called Marge before the application of one of those funny blue plasters that you have in catering, he also shouted "You've learned a lesson son!". And indeed I had - good knives are important in the kitchen, apparently more so than having all your fingers. Thanks Chef.

Anyway, because I don’t have a massive budget and can’t really afford a set of Henckels Four Star or some hand forged Japanese blades made by Hattori Hanzo , I have over the years invested in couple of Sabatier classic and other half decent knives. However, recently I was rather taken with a swish set of discounted Sabatier ‘Stella’ knives in the homewares bit of TK MAX (of all places) and, having disciplined myself to ‘sharpen little but often’ they’re excellent.

But then I had the quandary of what to do with my other old, assorted yet still perfectly useful knives. And at this point is where The West Wing kicks in – the episode where the President gives his carving knife to Charlie, his personal aide, as part of a long tradition of passing on knives from father to son. President Bartlett has no sons, and Charlie has no parents – so thus he gives the knife to Charlie, who beforehand had been sent all across Washington to buy the President a new carving knife for thanksgiving. Now I have no kids (and have no intention having them), OXFAM won’t take knives (quite reasonable policy to, in the current social climate) and all the other foodies I know have got more knife blocks than casserole dishes. So, I’ve offered them ‘on loan’ to a bloke at work who is vaguely interested in affairs of the kitchen. Yeah, it's not exactly got the same spiritual/moral/emotional gravitas of getting an antique knife from the President of the USA - but they’re yours anyway Pete, so use them wisely.

Footnote – the big kicker in the West Wing scene is Charlie asking about the brand name on the knife – ‘PR’ (oh, the irony). Jed tells him they were made for his family by a Boston silversmith called Paul Revere. Turns out he was a bit of a hero/legend during the US revolution – and you can read about him here.

And with regard to Josh and the 'font police' there's more to come on that subject. I mean who can resist a free font download used primarily for Motorway sinage called "Transport Heavy"?


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