I’m SUPER excited to report that Whisk’s knife sharpening service will now be in house at our Flatiron location on Tuesdays between 12:30 and 4pm! Trained by Margery Cohen, who sharpens the knives at the Chelsea Market, Yael Peet doubles as a professional knife sharpener and as a kickass sushi chef at Shuko.
Knowing very little about the knife sharpening myself, I had to ask Yael a few questions.
B: Starting with the basics, where are you from?
Y: I was born in the city. I currently live in Washington Heights.
B: What got you into knife sharpening?
Y: Cooking! Being a professional cook means you have to have a sharp knife. The boys in the kitchen where I was working at the time made fun of me because I couldn’t make carpaccio. My knife wasn’t sharp enough. When you’re a girl in the kitchen I feel like you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, so I learned to sharpen knives professionally.
B: How did you get in contact with Margery?
Y: In culinary school they taught us how to sharpen our own knives, but I was so bad at it – I would bring them to her. Immediately after the carpaccio incident three years ago, I went to Margery and asked if she would be willing to take me on as an apprentice. Luckily, my timing was perfect. It was right before the holidays, the busiest time of year for her, so she said yes.
B: I know you work at a Japanese restaurant, did you always want to work with Japanese food?
Y: Yes, I’ve always wanted to work with seafood. I feel like the Japanese have HUGE reverence for it.
B: Tell me about your tools. I see a whet stone. What grit are you using?
Y: I am using a 1,000-6,000 grit stone right now. I use the 1,000 to do the actual sharpening and the finer grit for polishing. I also use a 200 grit to remove holes or jagged edges.
B: For people sharpening at home, what sharpening method would you recommend? Pull through sharpeners or whet stones?
Y: Definitely go for the whet stone. Make sure that you really soak it. Saturating the stone will make it safer and more effective. The two sided 1,000-6,000 whet stone that you guys carry is a great choice. Although, if you have holes in your knife the 1,000 grit won’t do much. You would need something like a 600 grit. If you have no experience sharpening, I would advise you to seek out a professional.
B: If you’re sharpening with a whetstone, do you need a honing rod too? What exactly is the function of a honing rod?
Y: Honing rods straighten the blade and whetstones sharpen the blade. I would advise home cooks to use a honing rod before each use and to sharpen with a whetstone once a month.
B: What knives do you have at home?
Y: I probably have about 20 knives at home between my husband and I. My most used knives are probably my Nenox chef’s knife and Misono 6″ paring knife. I’m also a HUGE fan of the Joyce Chen scissors. I use them to break down fish and poultry, and for stem cutting on big leafy greens. It’s faster and easier than using your knife.
B: Tell me about knife storage. Do you use a block, magnetic strip, bag, or sheathes?
Y: I have so many knives so at home I have a block, a strip, and sheaths. I have the Norpro 24″ Knife Magnet. I like it because it prevents my knives from touching. Knife bags are great, but when I take my knives to work I usually put them in a sheath and toss them in my backpack. Definitely don’t store your knives loose in a drawer. You’ll probably hurt yourself and damage your knives.
B: Do you have a dream knife? What is it? (Please tell me it’s one that we carry!)
Y: My dream knife would definitely be a Bob Kramer knife! He’s one of the few American knife forgers and he makes knives out of meteorite rocks! He was featured on an episode of “American Craft” with Anthony Bourdain. You should definitely watch it. I would also really love a handmade Japanese knife. I love the Kikuichi knives that you guys have, but I’m left handed and would have to special order them.
B: I’ve definitely had customers come in before asking for lefty knives.
Y: It’s INCREDIBLY time consuming, but it is possible to re-shape a knife to be lefty. The eastern knives, like the Deba, can’t be manipulated. But I can definitely change the orientation of the Western knives.
B: How long would it take you approximately?
Y: At an absolute minimum maybe two hours, but if a customer wanted a knife to be made lefty, I would take it home for the week and work on it little by little every day.
B: Would you be willing to offer that service?
Y: Definitely. I would charge $50.
B: Are there any major differences in the process of sharpening a Western knife vs. an Eastern knife?
Y: Western knives are a harder steel. They’re harder to sharpen, but retain the edge for a longer period of time. Eastern Knives are softer steel and a bit brittle. They need to be sharpened more frequently, but get much sharper.
B: Any jams you like to sharpen to?
Y: The Spice Girls! I always sharpen to music. The average sharpening time for me is three songs/knife. So three three-minute songs. Approximately nine minutes per knife.
B: How do you set the prices for knife sharpening? We usually tell customers it varies depending on the condition of the knife.
Y: I charge $1 per inch, so most knives cost between $4 and $9. I charge an extra dollar for bread knives because I hand-file each indentation using a file. I charge an extra dollar or two if the tip is damaged and an extra dollar if the knife is exceptionally rusty.
B: Aside from a whet stone, are there any other tools that you like to work with when sharpening?
Y: I use a regular file (the kind you find at Home Depot) to sharpen serrated knives and a rust eraser by the North American Trading Co. for rust removal.
B: Last question. As a chef, are there any kitchen must-haves that you couldn’t live without?
Y: Yes. I have SO many. I love my Immersion Circulator! They’re amazing for home cooks because they’re not complicated to use and because they allow home cooks to cook like a professional without being professionally trained. There are blogs all over the internet on how to use them if you have any questions and it’s science! The Immersion circulator does all the work! All you have to do is throw it in a stockpot (I have a 10qt Le Creuset). Plus during the summer, it saves energy and doesn’t heat up your house. I also love my vacuum sealer (it has completely eliminated the need for ziploc bags), my 12″ cast iron pan, my fish spatula, and MICROPLANES. I love microplanes. I could be a spokesperson for microplanes.
B: What do you use them for?
Y: EVERYTHING. Garlic, ginger, parm, lemons, limes, nutmeg. I also think every home cook needs a decent cutting board. Not a plastic one, but a thick, heavy wooden one like one of these guys (gestures to a cutting board on the shelves).
B: What cutting board do you have at home?
Y: My cutting board is MASSIVE. My brother-in-law, Tim, is a carpenter. He’s incredibly talented and does custom woodwork. He mounted our colossal board onto a set of legs for us, so it’s more like a table.