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A video how-to on sharpening your knives


Just in time for the holidays, Chef Matthias Merges shows you how to sharpen your knives on

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Updated: December 15, 2012 6:05AM

The sound and movement of steel against a sharpening stone has been present with me daily during the 25 years I’ve spent cooking in professional kitchens.

There is truth to the saying “a sharp knife is a safe knife.” A dull knife has the tendency to move a product rather than cut through it, causing uncertainty, which can lead to injury.

When making small, exact cuts or filleting fish, the advantages of using a sharp knife are obvious. When filleting a beautiful sea bream from Japan, a sharp knife will glide effortlessly through the fish. If neglected, that knife will tear the fillet from the skin.

As a chef in a high-pressure kitchen where precision is necessary, you can train your ear to hear the knife cutting through a product. I can hear a dull knife crushing through chives rather than silently slicing through each green bundle.

As cooks become familiar with their tools, they begin to understand the difference in steel, blade shape and length. This is when things get interesting, when you know which knife to use and see the amazing results.

Most people have seen the metal sharpening steel that comes with those great sets of German knives, but what 99 percent of people do not know is that the steel always is used to finish or hone a knife’s edge after it has been sharpened on a sharpening stone.

When one looks under a microscope at a knife’s edge, it looks like a comb with many bristles. When all the bristles are standing upright, the knife is sharp. The pressure of using the knife pushes the bristles down over time, producing a dull knife. This is when the honing steel comes into play. A few pulls across the honing steel help straighten out the metal bristles.

There always will be a time when even a good honing steel cannot lift the steel back to place. This is when you need to sharpen the blade on a clay stone, which shaves down and creates a new edge.

The knife is one of the most important tools in a kitchen. Treat it with respect and care, much as you do the food you are serving.

Matthias Merges is the chef and owner of Yusho, 2853 N. Kedzie.

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