Happiness in Red

Rainy days suck. Here in Singapore, over the past few days, it’s been pouring almost daily. According to local weather forecasts, the rain isn’t going to stop. It doesn’t rain constantly, mind you. It comes and goes in spurts. It could be perfectly sunny when you get out of bed, but by lunch time, it’s dark, hazy and wet.

During our visit to the USA earlier this year, S and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Sprinkles, the super-cool cupcake shop that we first discovered via Matt Bites. We loved the pretty cakes, the sleek packaging, and the minimalist-chic interiors (I also liked the very cute sales staff, not that I was going to admit that to S). While there, we greedily devoured several of the cakes, washed down with tall glasses of organic milk. We also bought a couple of things to bring home, presents for friends and a very nicely-packaged tube of Red Velvet cupcake mix for ourselves.

For the past couple of months, the Red Velvet cake mix has sat on a counter in our main hallway. We’d walk past it daily, tempted each time to crack it open and whip up a delicious batch of cupcakes. But we had promised ourselves that this sweet treat would be saved for a “rainy day”, so to speak. Whether S had meant that to be a figurative rainy day or not, I’ll never know. This past week, I decided that the crappy weather was excuse enough to finally open the cupcake kit and bake a little Red Velvet sunshine.

Amusingly, when I opened the kit, I discovered that while the mix was correct, the instructions were mis-packaged. Instead of the Red Velvet cupcake instructions, we had been given notes for making Sprinkles’ dark chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate frosting. Fortunately, the side of the tube the mix came in had a list of “What You’ll Need” for the Red Velvet cupcakes. Using that and intuiting how and when to mix ingredients, S and I forged ahead.

Red Velvet cake, for those who haven’t tried it, is a cocoa-based cake, spiked with a healthy dose of red food colouring and a little white vinegar. It is traditionally topped with a cream cheese frosting. The Sprinkles cupcakes came out really well. The cake itself had a nice, moist fluffiness. It was also surprisingly not that sweet, which given how sweet the frosting was, was a very good thing. These cupcakes were really good. Good enough to inspire me to start researching Red Velvet cake recipes (I’ve found two so far), which I plan on pairing with Martha Stewart’s orange-cream cheese frosting. In the meantime (and until I whip up a batch from scratch, at which point I’ll post a recipe), I’ve been happily enjoying the Sprinkles cupcakes, which are perfect with a well-brewed cup of tea. They’ve been the perfect antidote for a week of crappy weather.

Another little thing in Red

I travel a lot. And I try as much as possible to pack light. So when a friend of mine recently showed me the XMI X-Mini speaker, I was thrilled. Well, to be honest, first I was a tad skeptical. Then I tried it out. And then I was thrilled. This little tiny speaker, which you twist open and gently pull open when in use, is surprisingly clear and even more surprisingly, quite loud, loud enough at least to fill a hotel room. You can plug it into any MP3 player or other device with a single jack output. I use mine, of course, with my red iPod Nano, which I feel is a perfect match. You can recharge the X-Mini via USB, which means not having to carry extra power cords or adapters when you’re on the road (a major plus).

S was equally thrilled with the palm-sized speaker. While I like the red model, she prefers the black version (not surprising as her iPod Nano is also black). She’s been using hers in the kitchen a lot. She loves that she can just pop it open, plug in her iPod and she has her library of music at her finger tips. She’s off to Germany this weekend for a week and I know she plans to bring it along as well.

The coolest thing about the X-Mini is the fact that something so small is so powerful. The design is cute — arguably, it’s not the sexiest thing out there. But it is pretty cool. And for what it is, it’s pretty darned amazing.

S’s lean, mean, slicing machine

debuyer.jpg

A few months ago, S came home with a large, gray and rather suspicious looking case. As an avid-movie junkie with an over-active imagination, the first thing that popped into my head was, “Oh my Lord, my wife’s bought herself a gun.” Seriously, I half expected her to pop open her little suitcase, pull out a state of the art bolt-action rifle with a high-powered scope and tell me she’d given up food writing for life as an assasin. While the case didn’t contain a gun, it did carry one pretty sexy but dangerous looking device. S calls it her lean, mean, slicing machine.

The de Buyer La Mandoline V Professionnelle is a professional quality slicer that makes usually time-consuming kitchen chores a real breeze. The stand that it comes with allows for the mandoline to be placed at a 45 degree angle, which makes it much more comfortable to use. And it can be adjusted for left-handed use, essential for S since she’s a lefty. It’s perfect when preparing dishes that call for ingredients to be julienned or sliced thinly. The mandoline comes with 2 blades and 4 different julienne inserts. You can create everything from waffle-cut potato chips to the thinnest of juliennes. S was close to swooning over the fact that with her new swanky machine she could achieve, in mere minutes, the thin, even slices of potato for Pommes Anna that used to take her ages to slice by hand. The sturdy attachment that protects your hand as you use it slides easily and keeps your fingers from being chopped up by the device’s intimidatingly sharp blades.

debuyer2.jpg

Truth be told, I still haven’t given the mandoline a test-drive. For a couple reasons. Firstly, I haven’t read the instructions yet and I’m not about to start playing with anything with such scary blades without really knowing how it works. Secondly, it’s S’s lean, mean, slicing machine. Not mine. And so long as she’s happy to keep using it to make delicious foods for yours truly, then who am I to rock the boat?

The de Buyer, of course, isn’t the only professional mandoline on the market. Our dear friend and neighbor J of Kuidaore uses a Bron Classic Mandoline. S borrowed it once but didn’t end up using it. After setting it up and staring at it for a while, she decided that the device just plain scared her too much. The de Buyer, on the hand, looks and feels reassuringly safe. And given that my darling wife, while an awesome cook, is at times a klutz in the kitchen, I feel much better knowing she’s using something that she feels confident using. If you cook as much as we do, this is a device you might want to consider investing in. It really does save you tons of time and effort. Plus it’s pretty darned cool looking.

Shopping news

Singapore-based gourmands will be excited to know that Pantry Magic is opening the doors of its first Singapore shop on Monday, 29 Janaury 2007. For those who haven’t visited one of their two stores in Hong Kong or its shop in Taiwan, Pantry Magic is a (relatively) new, Asian chain specializing in cooks’ tools.

My darlin’ wife S and I dropped by the new store while the proprietors were unpacking their wares and setting up their displays. It was pretty exciting to see all the gorgeous product just waiting for eager beavers like me to buy and bring home.

S was especially interested in the wide range of bakeware available while I was literally drooling over the gleaming copper pots and pans filling the store’s shelves. We also really liked the roasting pans that they’ll be selling. It’s hard to find nice pans with upright handles. The store has a pretty amazing range of product. The prices are pretty impressive as well. Because Pantry Magic manufactures a good deal of their own wares, they are able to price their items at 30%-40% less than similar, imported products.

Pantry Magic Pte Ltd.
43 Jalan Merah Saga
Chip Bee Gardens #01-80
Singapore
Tel: 6471 0566

Update: Pantry Magic is now located at #44 Club Street, Tel 6224 4055.

iWant

Okay, nothing to do with food, but oh my lord do I want one of these babies! Don’t know what it is? Click here. All I can say is, “Wow”.

Holiday Gift Guide 2006

Last year, I was a little late in posting my Christmas Gift Guide. This year, I’ve decided to get as early a start as possible. Unlike last year, in which I recommended only things that I had already acquired and road-tested, this year I am including things that are at the top of my own wish list. (This is, of course, in the very self-centered hope that good friends and family members will actually consult this before buying us our Christmas gifts this year.) Some of these gifts are pretty pricey; some are very reasonable. Some are only for serious cooks; others are items even the youngest of foodies will enjoy.

I hope that you enjoy my little round-up. Like last year, in honor of the 12 days of Christmas, I’ve chosen 12 nifty gift ideas that will make your favourite gourmand love you more than ever. Singaporean-based readers should also take note that, in conjunction with my beloved bank sponsor, OCBC, we’ve arranged some special prices on some of these items for cardmembers. Happy shopping and happy holidays!

1. KitchenAid products

I’m going to take it for granted that you already have (or your favorite foodie has) a KitchenAid Stand mixer. I know that S wouldn’t be able to live without hers. But what many of us often forget is that KitchenAid doesn’t just make mixers. A couple of shiny countertop appliances that I’ve had my eyes on for quite awhile are their food processor, their espresso machine and their burr (coffee) grinder.

All of them are stunningly designed, with the same gorgeous, brightly painted, metal finishes as the mixers. The processor features the largest feed tube on the market; that means you can easily toss into your mix all kinds of large food items, like tomatoes, potatoes or cucumbers with minimal sectioning. The espresso machine is simply gorgeous. I mean, who wouldn’t want that on their kitchen counter? And if you like your beans fresh, you’ll need a good grinder. The Pro Line series (Model KCG100) one is fantastic. And it’s not just for coffee. I have a friend who has one that she uses for grinding up Asian spices. Of course, you wouldn’t want to use the same one for coffee and spices. Do what she did, and get two.

OCBC Promotion: From 8 December to 28 February 2007, purchase the KitchenAid KES100 Espresso Machine and KitchenAid KCG100 Burr Grinder at a special combined price of $1399 (usual price is $1698), including GST. In addition, purchase the KitchenAid KFPM770 Food Processor (red color only) at just $469 (usual price is $599), including GST. Purchases must be made at Mayer showrooms and stores. Locations below in Terms & Conditions.

2. Stovetop smoker

I love the idea of being able to hot-smoke foods right on my stovetop. These smoketop smokers, from Camerons Professional Cookware not only look really easy to use, they also look pretty stylish. I can just imagine smoking everything from salmon to duck to pork ribs in my new smoker. Experimenting with different smoking ingredients, from various kinds of wood chips to gourmet teas, would be fun too.

3. Bespoke tea

The truly special person in your life needs a truly special present. Some of the best presents I’ve ever received were those that were specially tailored just for me. Singapore’s hottest, coolest and newest gourmet tea label, the Gryphon Tea Company, in addition to producing an exciting range of teas for the retail market, also has the facilities to custom-blend a tea specifically for you or your loved one. The process of creating a bespoke tea blend can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on how many rounds of tastings you need to go through. Teas are packaged loose in vacuum-sealed bags. Because Gryphon is a subsidiary of one of the region’s top tea manufacturers and importers, you can be rest assured that they can create something truly special and of top quality for you. Click here for contact info. Prices for a kilo of bespoke tea, which contains approximately 200 servings, starts at around S$250.

OCBC Promotion: Pay with your OCBC card and get a 10% discount on the price of your custom-blended tea. Promotion valid till 28 February 2007.

4. Cook With Jamie

I have to admit. This book really surprised me. Cook with Jamie, by Jamie Oliver, is a great cookbook. Unlike many of his more recent books, which I felt belonged in a “nice to have but far from essential” category, this well-written, clear and informative work has a good chance of becoming a classic cookbook. It’s definitely for me one of the year’s must-haves.

5. Revolutionary Chinese

Few people, Chinese or otherwise, understand Chinese food as well as Fuschia Dunlop. S and I were already big fans of her previous work, Sichuan Cookery. So, when Revolutionary Chinese hit the bookstores, we knew we had to have a copy. It’s a brilliant primer on Hunan cuisine, filled with insightful essays and clear recipes.

6. Justin Quek: Passion & Inspiration

As part of the team that produced this book, I admit freely that I’m extremely biased about it. That said, I do believe that Justin Quek’s cookbook is both beautiful and unique. Justin was insistent that this book tell his story–how he went from being a merchant sailor to becoming one of the world’s finest chefs. He also insisted that this book pay homage to his mentors and friends, featuring them prominently in its pages. Because of these inclusions, this book won’t just offer you dozens of amazing Modern French recipes (which it does), it provides the reader with a unique insight of one of Asia’s most talented artists.
7. Mario Batali cookware

This range of cast-iron cookware, fronted by one of the world’s favorite chefs, is both beautiful and affordable. The range that’s currently available in Singapore includes the 6qt Italian Essentials Pot (S$269); the Panini Grill and Press (S$249); the Risotto Pot (S$259); and the Extra Deep Lasagne Pan (S$239).

I’ve tried out both the risotto pot and the panini press and love them both. In fact, S and I like the panini press so much, we’ve ordered what looks like an awesome book of panini recipes just so we can use it more. S has also been trying to convince me to pick up the Lasagne pan. She likes that it has really straight sides; that ensures pretty plating when you serve the slices.

OCBC Promotions: Puchase any item from the Mario Batali cast iron cookware line and get the following items (worth S$116) free: a large ceramic utensils crock, a small silicone spatula, a large silicone spatula, and a silicone spoon spatula. Plus, buy any second item of cookware at 40% off. Available from the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building.

8. Mariage Freres teapots


These gorgeous glass tea pots from one of the world’s most notable tea companies are really S’s contribution to the Christmas gift list. In fact, she’s dropped many unsubtle hints to me that I should be placing an order for her as soon as possible. The two models above are amusingly named (from left to right) Happy Alladin and Happy Dream. Give one of these to your favorite fashionable female and I guarantee she’ll be happy as can be.

9. Fresh Alba truffle

Nothing is more indicative of the end of the year than the annual clamor for white Alba truffles. And nothing is as seductive or as powerful for food-lovers than the aromas and subtle flavors of these ridiculously expensive and rare tubers. This year, the average price was around 3,000 Euros per kilo. Is it worth it? Only you can answer that. But if one of your loved ones is a truffle fanatic, you might consider shelling out some cash and purchasing him or her a few truffles. Check with local restaurants and gourmet food importers. See if they’ll sell you some at a wholesale price. Or contact a top truffle company, like Tartufi Morra in Alba, and beg them to sell you some directly. Just remember to eat them properly. You never cook white truffles; they are best simply shaved over some risotto, pasta or scrambled eggs.

10. Kasumi 20cm chef’s knife

You can’t go wrong with a Kasumi chef’s knife. I know I can’t live without mine. This beautifully made, well-balanced Japanese knife is thin, strong and sexy as hell. The knives are made in Seki, Japan, which has a knife and sword-making history stretching back 700 years. The main cutting blade of Kasumi knives is V-Gold No 10 High Carbon stainless steel; the blade has a hardness on the edge of 59-60 HRC. The fine Damascus stainless steel pattern on the blade comes from 32 layers of folded steel. It’s both an essential tool and a work of art.

OCBC Promotion: Buy a Kasumi 20cm chef’s knife (usual price is S$290) for S$245 and get a Kasumi 12cm utility knife and a bamboo cutting board free. Plus, you get a voucher for one free knife sharpening service. Available from the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building.

11. Musso Mini ice cream machine

I’ve probably bored readers to tears over the last 2 years with countless stories about the fantastic ice cream that my wife S makes for me. She uses a Musso Mini, which looks a little like R2D2’s cuter, smaller cousin. It’s a fantastic machine. It freezes while it churns and can whip together a fresh batch of ice cream in just 20 to 30 minutes. While it’s certainly not a cheap appliance, it is very well-made and after 5 years, ours is still performing perfectly.

OCBC Promotion: Purchase your super-sexy Musso Mini right now for just $1,344 (usual price is S$1,680, so you save 20%). Plus get a voucher for an ice cream making class (venue and date to be determined). Contact BATS Singapore by calling +65 62925658 or email them at info@bats.sg. Alternatively call Sebastian Muthu at +65 94241807.

12. A case of Jacquesson Cuvée 730

Nothing is more festive than a glass of good Champagne. One of my favorite Champagne producers is Jacquesson. Founded in 1798, this excellent vineyard produces only 350,000 bottles a year. And while Jacquesson is nowhere near as well-known as some of the other houses in Champagne, like Krug, Moet & Chandon, Bollinger, or Veuve Clicquot, its wines are as elegant and well-crafted as those from these other houses.

The Cuvée No. 730 is the 730th cuvée made by the House since its Centenary Cuvée in 1898. It’s a light, clean, crisp Champagne with slight nutty and citrusy elements. It’s the perfect bubbly for toasting in the new year.

KitchenAid Terms & Conditions:
a) Please note that these offers are valid while stocks last only.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Limited to one purchase per product category only. That is, one card member can only purchase 1 Espresso Machine, Burr Grinder and Food Processor only.
d) Not valid in conjunction with any other promotions and offers.
e) Not entitled to Mayer In-Store Promotions, Free Gifts & Lucky Draw.
f) All items are cash & carry and do not include delivery. Collection of products must be at point of purchase. In the event there is no stock at the showrooms, new stock will be sent to the showrooms and customers must collect within 5 days of notification.
g) Promotion is valid till 28 February 2007.
h) Promotion is for purchases made only in Mayer stores. Locations are as follows: Causeway Point #03-22/23 Tel: 6767 1017, Compass Point #B1-01/02 Tel: 6315 8700, Great World City #02-05 Tel: 6838 4079, IMM #02-45 Tel: 6563 4288, Parkway Parade – Home Haven on 7 #07-10/14 Tel: 6346 9216, Plaza Singapura #05-06 Tel: 6835 8272. Showroom opening hours: 11am – 9.30pm daily.

Mario Batali and Kasumi Terms & Conditions:
a) All items are while stocks last.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Razorsharp reserves the rights to replace free gift items with other items of the same value.
d) Color depending on stock availability.
e) Promotion is for purchases made at the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building, Singapore 169074, Tel: +6562277515. Operating hours : Mon~Friday 09:30~18:00 & Sat 09:30~13:30 (Closed on Sunday & PH).
f) Promotion is valid till end January 2007.

Musso Terms & Conditions:
a) This offer is valid while stocks last.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Cooking classes are contingent upon a minimum number of participants signing up.
d) Promotion is valid till 28 February 2007.

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: William Ledeuil and his Thermomix

Of all the great chefs that flew into Bangkok for the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival and cooked their hearts out over the past week, the one that impressed me the most was Chef William Ledeuil. This always affable, enthusiastic and humble chef runs one of Paris’ hottest restaurants, Ze Kitchen Galerie. The International Herald Tribune has called Ledeuil’s establishment a “delight”. The New York Times has said, “the cooking shows unbridled creativity and a sense of fun.” Ledeuil first made his name at Les Bouquinistes, a Guy Savoy bistro. There, he prepared fresh, modern French food. Today, at Ze Kitchen Galerie, he cooks what he calls simply “contemporary cuisine”. Not contemporary French mind you. Just contemporary. Others might also call his food, for lack of a better term, fusion.

Ledeuil, who has a wealth of classical training, is in love with Asian produce, especially the herbs and spices of Southeast Asia. His cuisine draws upon these inspirational ingredients to produce a range of fantastically exciting dishes. At the World Gourmet Festival, I had the pleasure of attending Chef Ledeuil’s cooking class, one of his 5-course dinners and also of having an encore of what I consider the best dish of the week during the WGF’s gala dinner, a seabass ravioli with capsicum lemongrass condiment and shellfish broth (pictured at the top of this post). When this dish was presented at the 8-course gala, it caused quite a sensation. You could smell the lemongrass in the air as the waiters and waitresses carried the plates into the room. A super-light but amazingly flavourful foam covered the ravioli, which was steamed to perfection. The fish inside was deliciously tender and the capsicum lemongrass sauce under it added the perfect hint of complexity.

Chef Ledeuil’s five course dinner menu was as follows: layer of daikon and shrimp flavoured with Thai basil and tarama lemongrass; beet root and confit of ginger gaspacho with cucumbers filled with crabmeat, avocado puree and salmon roe; the seabass ravioli; grilled lobster and Bouchot mussels with lemongrass and crustacean jus; and mango cappuccino with coconut ice cream and banana papaya emulsion. During Ledeuil’s cooking class, I was thrilled to watch him make the seabass ravioli that I had fallen in love with just a few days earlier. Unfortunately, because Chef Ledeuil had originally planned to make the dish with different sauces, the recipe he handed out was different from what he showed us. If you want to check out Chef’s Ledeuil’s recipes for yourself, he released a cookbook called Les Couleurs du Gout (The Colours of Taste) two years ago. Chef very generously passed me a copy. It’s stunning and I urge you to buy a copy. The only problem (for me at least) is that the book is in French which means I’ll be spending many a night brushing up on my very, very rusty Francais.

In addition to wowing me with his cooking, Chef Ledeuil also wowed me with something I had read about but had never gotten to actually see up close, a Thermomix. Ever since I had heard about these amazing machines that single-handedly weigh, chop, blend, knead, whip, and cook (yes cook!), I’ve wanted to check one out and see it in action. Chef Ledeuil swears by them. He told me he can’t imagine cooking without one. I was thrilled when he invited me into the kitchen to watch as he prepared some of his sauces with the one he carried all the way to Bangkok from Paris.

The Thermomix is very cool. It allows you to precisely measure ingredients and blend them at 11 different speeds (1-10 plus a turbo setting). Most amazingly, you can heat your ingredients at 7 different temperature settings, ranging from 37 degrees Celsius on up to 100 degrees Celsius. The consistency of the sauces that Chef Ledeuil made were brilliantly smooth and nicely heated through. Having finally seen a Thermomix in action, all I can say is, “Oh my God, I want one!” Of course, I’d like to cook like Chef Ledeuil as well.

ZE KITCHEN GALERIE
4, rue des Grands Augustins
Paris 6
Tel: 01 44 32 00 32

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Free phones — whoopee!

Local readers hoping to win a brand new Nokia N73 phone still have 2 more days to enter my first N73 giveaway contest, Funny Eating Fotos. So, if you have a great, hilarious picture taken of someone stuffing his or her face, hurry over to Flickr and post your photo. I’ll be announcing the winner of this contest during the first week of September.

If you don’t win a phone through Funny Eating Fotos, you still have a chance to win a Nokia N73. Contest 2 begins today. I’m calling this one “Best Kept Secret Food Stalls”. Entering it is similar to contest 1. If you’re not already registered with Flickr, you’ll need to sign up (relax, it’s free). Then go to Best Kept Secret Food Stalls, the Flickr pool I’ve created for this contest.

This contest is open only to Singapore-residents (sorry). Please post one picture per contestant only. Post a great picture which has been taken using a mobile phone of your favourite local “best kept secret food stall”, i.e. that place you love to eat at that serves super-delicious food but that you’re pretty sure not that many people know about. Note: the photo must have been taken with a mobile phone.

Please describe the photo after you post it. The photo can be anything from someone eating to the food itself to a shot of the stall/eatery/coffee shop itself. Just be sure to tell all of us where it is.

The contest closes 22 September 2006. The folks at Nokia and I will judge the pictures and award the winner with a Nokia N73. We’ll be looking for a really cool picture… something really great… not sure exactly how to put it in words. We’ll be looking for a picture that just makes us go, “wow”. Good luck!

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Win a Nokia N73

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of testing out one of Nokia’s awesome new N Series phones. The N73 is a joy to use and I’m not just saying that because I got one free. The N73 is the first Nokia I’ve used in years. Quite a few years ago, I made the switch to PDA phones, using (in order) a Treo, HP iPaq and most recently a Dopod 838 Pro, which I totally love. But I have to admit, the N73 has been winning me over. It’s a good size; it feels right in my hand. It has simple, clean looks (I hate fancy “fashion phones”) and the calender software works perfectly. Keying in appointments is a breeze and the read-out on the main screen is very clear. Best of all, the Nokia N73’s camera rocks. It has a 3.2 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens. I’ve complained in the past about the cameras on my PDA phones. The Treo’s was awful and the iPaq’s not much better. The Dopod’s camera isn’t bad but it’s nothing compared to N73’s. While you can’t really shoot things too close, for general snapping away, it’s brilliant.

But, as in all things, you should judge for yourself! So, thanks to the fine folks at Nokia, I’m thrilled to be able to give away 2 brand new Nokia N73 phones. I’ll be giving each one away via 2 contests over the next 2 months.

FUNNY EATING FOTOSis the first contest and it starts today! Sorry, but it’s open only to Singapore residents. Starting today, post the funniest photograph that you have taken of someone (that you know) eating or enjoying a meal. The photo can also be a self-portrait. I love funny photos of people eating. I especially love snapping them. My wife S (pictured here; photo taken with the N73), however, hates it, but has learned to live with it (and me). Please only post 1 photograph per contestant.

At the end of August, I will (with input from the folks at Nokia) pick a winner. To enter, you need to join Flickr, post your photo online and then send it to this Photo Group that I have created just for this contest: Funny Eating Fotos.Good luck! I look forward to seeing your entries and I’m looking forward to sending one of you a brand new Nokia N73.

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Kitchen samurai

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I really like knives. When I was younger, I bought a lot of silly knives, like f

olding blades and boot daggers. These days, though, my purchases are limited to kitchen knives. Over the years, S and I have amassed what I consider a pretty nifty collection. At last count, we have well over a dozen gorgeous chef’s knives. My personal favourites among them include a Masahiro Deba, a Kasumi, a Wusthof Classic with an exceptionally wide blade, a Chroma Type 301, and a Wusthof Culinar.

Buying knives is easy. Maintaining them is not. A good knife, to be really useful when working with it in the kitchen, has to be razor sharp. The only problem is that, for the longest time, I was neither confident nor sure how to properly sharpen my knives. Part of me feared that if I tried and somehow did something wrong, I’d ruin my precious tools. I do own one of those fancy-shmancy Global sharpeners, the kind which sits on the table and has litle grooves for you to run your knife through. But I’ve never really felt that it works properly. I also own a Global wetstone, but, as said, I’ve been too nervous about screwing up an expensive tool to acually use it. For the longest time, S has been sending my knives out to be professionally sharpened.

Fortunately, a very kind and very skilled new friend (I’ll call him Knife-Sensei David) spent a good chunk of a recent afternoon walking S and me through a knife sharpening class. The first thing we had to understand, Sensei David told us, was our knives themselves. German knives and Japanese knives are quite different. German knives are two-sided and each side is ground at a 20 degree angle. Traditional Japanese knives are only one sided and the angle is sharper, at 15 degrees. Modern Japanese knifemakers are also making double-edged blades now. These are also ground at around 15 degrees. But what does all this mean? Basically, the more acute the angle, the sharper your knife can be. A straight razor, for example, is ground at a 10 degree angle. However, the sharper the angle is, the thinner the blade becomes. And for a chef’s knife, a thin blade is only useful if it won’t break. The strength of the metal in a blade is measured by something called Rockwell Hardness. Most German blades measure between 55-58 while most Japanese blades measure between 59-60. The steel used in most Japanese knives are thus stronger, which is why they can be ground to a finer angle, i.e. thinner, (and are often made single-sided) without fear of becoming brittle.

Once we understood this, Sensei David then walked us through his 4 important points of knife sharpening. They are (1) angle, (2) abrasives , (3) technique, and (4) control.

Angle: Basically, he explained, as long as you understand that knife blades are sharpened along an acute angle ranging from 15-20 degrees, what actual angle you use to sharpen your own knives doesn’t really matter as long as you are consistent and stay within this range. For a quick check to ensure that you are somewhere on the right path, he advises holding the knife at a 90 degree angle, halving that to form a 45 degree angle, and then finally halving that again. You can then adjust according to your own preference.

Abrasives: Sensei David advocates using a wetstone. He advises to soak the stone in water for 5-10 minutes before use and to always let it dry properly afterwards. Wetstones are graded according to how rough and smooth they are. They can start as low as 200 and go all the way up to 10,000 (the higher the number, the smoother the surface). Stones graded between 200 – 1,000 are considered cutting stones. Those graded over 1,000 are for polishing and honing. Essentially, what stone you use is determined by how sharp or blunt your knife is. Start with a cutting stone. If your knife is dreadfully dull, you’ll need a very abrasive (low-numbered) stone, like a 400. If it’s already quite sharp, you could start with a 1,000. Polishing stones are used later to hone the edge of your knife as well as to create gorgeous, shiny edges on your blade. Most people, Sensei David suggests, will be thrilled with the polish from a 4,000 level stone. “Only kitchen samurais who want super-sharp, super-shiny knives use 10,000,” he said.

Technique: It’s better to sharpen your knives with a large stone. You’ll want one with a wide surface area so that you can draw all of the knife’s edge along the stone in one motion. Gripping the handle of your knife with one hand, get it into your desired angle along your stone. Place three fingers of the other hand on the flat of the blade near the tip. Start at the top left corner (if you are right-handed) and and run the blade along the stone towards the near right corner. Go back and forth in a consistent motion, sharpening only one side of the knife. Every so often, check the blade. You stop only when you can feel a burr running down the total length of the edge of the blade, on the side that you were not sharpening. When you feel this, stop, flip the blade and sharpen the other side the same way until you feel a fine burr. Sensei David said to us, “the burr is your friend, it is how you know your knife is sharp.” Then use a polishing stone to hone your knife. Holding it the same way, run the blade back and forth on both sides until the edge is smooth and gleaming.

Control: As in anything that requires technique, control is everything. You need to be consistent. The good thing is, according to Sensei David, that despite what you may believe, you really can’t ruin a good quality knife by botching up the sharpening process.

Once your knives are properly sharpened, you won’t need to sharpen them every day. Only professional chefs, who have to cut through endless produce every day, need to do that. Home chefs should, though, hone their blades with a few quick sweeps against a straightening steel (the ceramic vesions work equally well) each time they want to use one.

(Phew. Talk about long-winded posts.) Hopefully, this has helped you all a little. Or maybe you knew all this and I was the only moron out there who was spending a lot of money buying fancy knives without knowing how to take care of them properly. Thanks to Sensei David, I now understand how to sharpen these gorgeous babies myself. (So does S, which is great because hopefully she’ll feel motivated to shapen them for me.)

If, however, you still want to get your knives professionally sharpened (and you live in Singapore), feel free to call David’s company, Razor Sharp, any time. They can make your knives look like new and cut through paper as if it was air. I’ve been amazed at how finely-edged some of my knives have been after a visit to his office. And, because David knows I love it when the edges are super-shiny, he gives this fat foodie the kitchen-samurai special, honing my knives with a 10,000 graded stone.

Razor Sharp
315 Outram Road
#01-03 Tan Boon Liat Building
Singapore 169074
Tel: 6227 7515

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