The definition of tools of the trade as a noun is any instrument, implement, device or piece of machinery that is needed to expertly and correctly conduct an occupation, trade or profession. It should be obvious that in the food preparation industry, for a Chef, knives qualify as a tool of the trade.
Upon graduating from culinary academies, a graduate will probably have their set of basic knives that travel with them everywhere. There is one rule that is pretty standard among chefs: You do not share knives!
When traveling, chefs need to take precautions to wrap their knives well, protecting them from shifting and bumping, and to protect the edges of the blades. Some chefs may wrap their knives in towels, and others wrap them between articles of clothing or pieces of leather. Some may even have specially designed cases.
There are five basic knife needs and/or tools that any chef must have. As they progress in their careers, they will probably include dozens more of experimental and specialty tools, but with these five knives, most any meal can be prepared.
Knife Steel (or Sharpening Steel)
This has a handle like a long knife, but instead of a blade, there is a circular steel rod. Not only does it sharpen knives, but it keeps the blades aligned by reshaping the rough edges resulting from use. A good chef uses the knife steel before and after preparations on one of his trusty knives.
Serrated Utility Knife
Serrated edges are a must for cutting bread (especially with a hard crust), other foods with hard skins, and for very juicy vegetables such as tomatoes.
As the name implies, this cleaves and debones large cuts of meat that need to be sectioned in hefty pieces as opposed to being cut precisely.
This is the most popular knife of all. Chefs use this knife during preparation nearly 95% of the time. In the right hands, it can slice, dice, chop, and debone smaller pieces of meat with expert precision. A well-crafted, top quality, forged stainless steel chef’s knife is the chef’s best friend and can last a decade with the proper care.
This knife is used for filleting fish, handling very fine and soft meats, and can be used for slicing very thin luncheon meats. Sometimes it is used when preparing chicken, turkey, and other poultry.
Most chefs prefer high quality forged stainless steel blades. Mainly, the basic knife needs of a chef include heft, seamless design with no joints, a secure, comfortable grip, and a blade of high polish that resists rust and corrosion. Reputable chefs never use dull knives. They recommend professional sharpening every 12 to 18 months, and never sharpening serrated edges.
Some chefs only carry a select few knives, while others may keep an assortment of every type. The type of food a specialty chef works with will guide his/her selection. For instance, vegan chefs do not need the same knives as a pastry chef or Sous-chef.