There's a new cookbook,Cooking For Geeks
, that I'm in love with because I'm one of those people that likes to know the science behind food. The author, Jeff Potter, is an engineer by trade, not a food scientist. So smartly, he doesn't pretend to know all the answers, but instead interviews dozens of people who are experts in their field to fill his book with great stories and useful information.
I'll do a more complete book review later, but I wanted to let you know Potter's only Southern California book signing happens tomorrow, October 5 between 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. The event is free, and autographed books will be available for purchase $35, cash only. Location after the jump!
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
It'll happen at the Machine Project, 1200 N Alvarado St., Los Angeles, (213) 483-8761.
One example of his expert research involves knives. Did you know that before World War II, there was only one knife shape made for the butcher trade? It was the large, curved and fairly wide blade called the cimeter. Now, there are many shapes - breaking knives, stiff boning knives, flexible boning knives and so on. Potter interviews Buck Raper, the manager of manufacturing and engineering at Dexter-Russell, America's largest and oldest cutlery company. From the book:
At what point is a knife effectively used up? [Buck shares with me the photo shown below.] I cannot believe how much the bottom knife has been sharpened away compared to the new knife on top. What's the story with this actual knife?
Whoever was resharpening that knife was very, very good. It came back to our customer service people for replacement from a mom-and-pop butcher shop. I train our sales force, and one of the questions they ask is how long is a knife useful. I show them this. That's pushing the ridiculous. I would think that that knife had seen about five or six years of service.
We usually find in a restaurant that a knife is good for six to nine months. With professional cutlery, and in particular with packing houses, they'll need a wide blade for breaking down a side of beef. They need a large curved knife, which we call a cimeter steak knife. When it starts out life, it's about 2 1/2″ wide, and when it gets down to about 1″ or 1 1/4″ wide, it's no longer suitable for breaking down the big sides of beef. So then they use it for the smaller cuts, and call it a breaking knife. When they wear it down to about under an inch, they use it as a boning knife.
So these knives actually go to a series of different lives? As they get smaller from sharpening, they get repurposed and reused?
They get narrower, and they get shorter. People find different applications for them. The poultry industry still does that. What I'm talking about is mostly pre-WWII. After WWII, people started coming to us and saying, "Hey, can't you make this shape from scratch?" So we started to create the same shape as the worn-out knife. You wouldn't have to wear out a giant cimeter; you could just buy a breaking knife off the shelf. A lot of our traditional knife shapes have evolved from large blades that were worn down and used for different applications, and then we started making a blade with that shape.