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`Knife Skills Illustrated' by cooking instructor, Peter Hertzmann, is eminently subtitled, `A User's Manual', as one could wish that such a book actually accompanied your one thousand dollar plus set of French, German, or Japanese knife sets, except that Professor Hertzmann makes the excellent case, along with almost everyone else who covers the subject, that you only really need three knife styles, the chef's knife, a pruning knife, and a serrated slicing knife.
Before buying this book, one must consider another volume, `The Professional Chef's Knife Kit' prepared by The Culinary Institute of America. The book has only 3/5 the pages of Hertzmann's volume, and costs five more dollars, list price, but it actually covers far more ground and may actually be preferable to Hertzmann if you already know your way around a chef's knife and cutting board.
Hertzmann's book is truly for the inexperienced amateur, in that he covers only the most basic techniques; however, he does this very, very well. Two aspects of the book may leave the professional or skilled amateur a bit impatient. The first is that all techniques are fully illustrated from the point of view of both a right-handed and a left-handed person. Thus, a lion's share of the book's 256 pages duplicate information. The second is that the sections on preparing vegetables often repeat the same techniques for produce where the methods are very similar, as with an onion and a shallot or a turnip and a potato.
This said, all the instruction Hertzmann gives us is very, very good. Coverage includes all the usual subjects, such as how to hone a knife, how to wash and store knives, how to use, wash, and care for cutting boards, and how to hold and handle knives safely. I may have been just a bit disappointed that the author did not cover knife sharpening in more detail, but I firmly agree with the author (and many others as well) that with expensive knives, this task is best done by a good professional. I am also just a bit surprised that Hertzmann does not give just a bit more attention to use of the Santoku design knife and the Chinese and Japanese style vegetable cleavers, especially as the author points out that his first real training was with Martin Yan, and that he used the Oriental style cleaver for many years before switching over to the European style chef's knife.
Even though much of the material is familiar to an experienced cook, I found a few tips which were so good to virtually be worth the cost of the book. High on that list is the better method for finding the best point on asparagus to cut off the woody ends. As I have often thought, the test snap method really wastes much good vegetable. Another rare and valuable piece of advice is the three different methods for dicing an onion, one of which is especially useful if you don't need to dice the entire vegetable.
In contrast, the CIA Knife Kit book goes far beyond Hertzmann in dealing with both far more different types of cuts such as rondelles, ripple cuts, gaufrettes, ribbons, Paysanne, Tourne, Fermiere and decorative cuts. The book also covers using a mandoline in great detail and gives far more detailed descriptions and photographs on techniques for washing, storing, and honing knives. And, most importantly, if you are willing to do it, precise information on how to sharpen knives using a whetstone. There is a fair amount of information in this book which an amateur may never use, but all of it is useful to both a professional and an amateur who is simply interested in how the professional does things. It is also important to point out that the material in this book does not appear in the big CIA book `The New Professional Chef'.
This book is perfect for the person who simply wants to be able to make Rachael Ray recipes in almost 30 minutes (Rachael can do it simply because she has all these skills). It is also a boon to people who like to cook efficiently, but don't know where to find these basic skills (and doesn't have the time to watch the collected 256 episodes of Alton Brown's `Good Eats' show. If you already have good knife skills, consider the CIA book instead.