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Chef tip: It's all about the knives

Food writer Holly Ebel says chefs agree: good knifes, seasonal ingredients, a quality thermometer and one lemon are essential items for any cook.

Chef's Knives
Jeff Windt, executive chef and owner of Catering by Design, with his chef's knife Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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It almost happens overnight, leaving salads and grilling for heartier, more filling dishes. Fall is knocking on our door and most of us automatically change cooking direction. Hello soups. Hello stews.

With that in mind it seemed like a good idea to check in with a few local chefs for some helpful tips on the coming cooking season.

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While I expected them to say things like "dry meat before searing" or "use an immersion blender for the best whipped cream," every one of them began with the importance of knives. Thinking about it, it's true: Very little can happen in the kitchen that doesn't start with a knife.

"Knife skills were the first thing I learned on my first day of culinary school. So much of cooking involves chopping, slicing, carving. Those skills using a good set of knives can speed things along as you prep your ingredients," explained Chef Jeff Windt, owner of Catering by Design.

He suggested tutorials on You Tube as a means of observing and learning, since most of us aren't about to go to culinary school. Also important is a digital thermometer.


"It's a multi-purpose helper since it can be used on meat, chicken and baked goods." Though he seldom offers baked goods, he does bake at home and for those wanting to bake bread he suggests a cast iron Lodge double cooker.

What ingredients does he keep on hand, anything special?

"No. If I need something I'll go out and get it rather than having things around 'just in case.'" Catering by Design is at 898 Seventh St. NW, right next to Ye Old Butcher Shoppe.

Knife skills also heads the list of advice from Chris Rohe, chef/owner of Prescott's, 1201 Broadway Ave. S.

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"Basically you only need three. Essential is a Chef's knife, a workhorse in the kitchen because it can do it all. Also a paring knife for smaller tasks and a serrated knife," Rohe added, for slicing breads. "Those three can do anything you need help with. Forget those big blocks of knives, most of which you won't use anyway."

Prescott regulars know about his passion for using seasonal, locally grown, produce and vegetables, many from his garden.

"The best advice I can give cooks is to go with the flow of what's coming in," Rohe said. "Right now it's potatoes, squashes, onions, canning tomatoes and apples."

He says he puts off using squashes until October because there are so many, they last long, and "I get tired of them." Pumpkin and zucchini breads are high on the list he suggests we bake now.


Tim McCarty, executive chef at Rochester Golf and Country Club, did offer some advice for cooks, both beginners or more experienced.

"When you are getting ready to cook or bake, make sure you have everything you need. Have a game plan," McCarty said. "If you're a new cook it's important to use your recipe as a guide, your map. You can improvise as you get more comfortable."

McCarty also suggests something he does – cooking once to eat twice. "For example, I might put a pork shoulder in a slow cooker, slice it that night, then shred it for barbecue the next night."

A tool he feels is especially important is an oven thermometer, especially if you're a baker.

Chef's Knives
A chef's knife belonging to Jeff Windt, executive chef and owner of Catering by Design, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

"You need to know the temperature you're baking at," he said. "It can make a big difference in your end product."

Here's a suggestion he also feels is important: If you're baking a cake or cookies turn them half-way through to give them an even bake. Why? "Because ovens can have a hot spot," McCarty said.

McCarty also stressed the importance of not rushing when cooking.

"Allow yourself enough time to cook whatever properly," he said. "And if there's a culinary term or procedure you're not sure about, look it up on your phone. That carries a lot of information. for both beginners and advanced cooks."


Chef Bojii chef and owner of Chez Bojii, 301 N. Broadway, agreed that we should incorporate as many local seasonal ingredients in our cooking as we can.

Also we should keep in mind the provenance of the recipe we are using: "Every dish has a history."

I thought of that as I made my mother-in-law's molasses crinkles last week. Memories too are an important ingredient. While I didn't get a lot of actual cooking tips, I did pick up a few that could be helpful: If prepping, salt each component of what you are putting together rather than salting and seasoning at the end; taste at every stage of cooking; write in your cookbooks since notes can be helpful the next time around; and finally, always have at least one lemon in the refrigerator.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com .

Chef's Knives
Jeff Windt, executive chef and owner of Catering by Design, with some of the knives he uses in his work as a chef Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Food for Thought - Holly Ebel column sig

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.
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