Archaeologists think they have found a food preparation site at Gona in the Awash Valley region in Ethiopia.

This site dates back to 2.6 to 2.5 million years ago making it the oldest kitchen ever discovered. The kitchen tools found at the site were simple knife-like flakes of bones and stones used to cut up animal carcasses.

The kitchen knife was born out of necessity. During the Stone Age, knives were made of flint, which could be shaped easily. This should come as no surprise, since cooking vessels would not come along until much later, and the fork would not arrive on the scene until the 16th century.

Knives have a long and varied past. In each country of the world, there is a knife related to its culture and history. Today, knives continue to be important tools, especially in the kitchen. A kitchen knife is any knife that is intended to be used in food preparation.

A great deal of kitchen preparation can be accomplished with a few general-purpose knives. The chef’s knife is the most common knife used in the kitchen. There are two types of blade shapes; the French or German. The German is the most commonly used with a slightly curved edge at the point of the knife allowing the knife to slightly rock when cutting or dicing. The French blade design is straighter with less curve to the blade. The blade design to use is a matter of personal choice.

Kitchen knives can be made from several different materials. For many years kitchen knives were made from carbon steel. They were easy to sharpen, but had a tendency to rust, stain food items and, if not cleaned properly. leave a metallic taste on food. At one time, wooden knives were popular in professional kitchens for cutting salads because carbon steel would turn lettuce brown.

Today, most knives are made from stainless steel, an alloy containing 10 to 15 percent chromium with only small amounts of carbon. The lower grades of stainless steel knives will not take as sharp an edge as a good high quality carbon steel knife, but they are resistant to corrosion. They will not rust, and they will not taint the taste of food, plus they are inexpensive.

Higher grades of forged stainless steel are extremely sharp and can out-perform carbon steel blades, but they are expensive. Ceramic knives will hold an edge the longest of all knives, but they can chip easily and will break when dropped.

There are more than 15 different styles of knives in the kitchen, each with its own specific task, ranging from cleavers to pairing knives. What knives should you have at home? I suggest he Santoku. Translated loosely, it means three good things or three uses. The knife blade and handle are balanced to give a more comfortable feeling when using this knife. The blade is a thinner, flat ground blade made of harder tempered steel that makes it ideal for cutting fish, vegetables, and small boned or boneless meat. Many celebrity chefs are seen using this knife on TV. Professional chefs have been using this knife for years. I also suggest a serrated knife and a paring knife. A sharpening steel should be part of your knife set to keep your knives sharp.

Here are few tips to help you along. The guiding hand is the hand not holding the knife; it should be formed into the shape of a claw with the thumb tucked inside the four fingers. This will allow you to cut the food products safely without fingers or thumb sticking out. Always cut on a cutting board. Stabilizing the cutting board with a piece of rubberized shelving liner under it helps.

Never place a knife in the sink. Clean it by hand immediately. When cleaning or wiping a knife, face the blade away from you and wipe the blade from the dull side. Never use a dull knife; you increase the chance of cutting yourself because you use more effort in cutting rather than relying on the sharpness of the blade. Keep your mind on what you are doing at all times when you are using the oldest tool in the kitchen.

Here is one of my favorite recipes.

Baby Back Ribs

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 2½-3 pound racks baby back pork ribs

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce

1/2 cup orange juice

1 cup sweet BBQ sauce

2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons melted butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 325F. Salt and pepper the ribs on both sides and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, then remove from oven. In a bowl mix all ingredients, except the salt and pepper to make the sauce. Coat ribs with sauce on the top and bottom and return to oven for an additional 15 minutes or until meat pulls away from bone. Let them rest 5 minutes, cut and serve.

Costa Magoulas is dean of the Mori Hosseini College of Hospitality and Culinary Management at Daytona State College. Contact him at (386) 506-3578 or magoulc@daytonastate.edu.

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