Public Service Announcement

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It was about twenty years ago when I first became aware of cooking shows on tv. Of course I grew up with Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet, but those shows were few and far between.

The Food Network was the actual first food channel I think – jumping on the culinary bandwagon to satisfy our love of learning about cooking and various cuisines.

There were so many formats back then to the shows. There was Bobby Flay barbequeing away on his NYC rooftop, everything from chicken to pigs, along with a special pitcher of margaritas made with grilled peaches. There were occasional shots of his beautiful model wife carrying in baskets of jalapeños or roasted tomatoes. (We all know how that ended.)

There was Emeril LaGasse, with his talk-show style cooking show complete with a live audience with a jazz band, like a daytime foodie version of Johnny Carson. And his Bam! that he yelled every time he threw something in a pan caught on throughout the country. It actually annoyed me, so I didn’t watch him.

There was Ina Garten, cooking from her Hampton home, with field trips to her personal florist in a nearby quaint town and to her seafood monger by the sea, so that she could put on pretty parties. She managed to do her whole show in a monotone voice, all while smiling, with sneak peaks at her poor husband, who obviously didn’t want to be filmed, forcing the fact that they really still get along after 50 years of marriage. We believe you, Ina!

There was Iron Chef, the original Japanese version with “Chairman” Kaga, who ordered two contestants to a major cook-off focusing on one ingredient. The “battle” took place in a giant stadium, overseen by the chairman, who seriously looked like he was ready to go to war, with a saber strapped to his uniform. Plus there was color commentary from a man on the ground bouncing between contestants. There were Japanese judges, usually including a geisha who only managed to giggle throughout the show and, mind you, this was all dubbed in English. Even the giggling.

Then there was Sandra Lee. Enough said.

I bring all of this up because for many of us, myself included, this was our first glimpse inside restaurant kitchens and inside the minds of chefs. The shows allowed their creativity to shine, as well as their culinary skills. As impressive as they all were, and are, it actually inhibited a lot of home cooks because they felt that they couldn’t perform like tv chefs.

During that same time I did a lot of cooking demonstrations and gave talks about cooking, encouraging people to get back into the kitchen. I constantly explained that what tv chefs or restaurant chefs do, is nothing like what we do as home cooks. It’s apples and oranges, thankfully, because I’ve never wanted to be a chef.

I think what’s mostly intimidating to people is the way a chef can dice an onion in one second flat while talking to the tv camera. Well if I have a guest in my home who comes at me with a timer, they’re getting kicked out. It’s just not about speed or showing off.

I know we’ve all experienced great messes on our stove when we’ve tried to flip over a skillet of vegetables like they do on tv and half of them didn’t make it back into the pan. Does that make us bad cooks? Of course not!

Following is my public service announcement. It involves a knife. Any knife – sharp or dull. Anything that is done with a knife can potentially be dangerous. Like cutting or stabbing.

Years ago I decided to de-pit an avocado like they do on tv. (I have since come to the conclusion that Bobby Flay uses a stunt double.)

I opened up the avocado lengthwise, held the half with the pit in my left hand, and just like on tv, slammed my sharp chef knife into the pit with my right hand. All it takes is a little twist of the knife and the pit can easily be removed.

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Well, except when the knife doesn’t make contact with the pit and instead slips off the avocado and lands across your hand. Fortunately I didn’t have to go to the emergency room but let me tell you – I never did this again.

And definitely don’t think you can stab the damn pit.

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As long as I’m discussing lessons learned, a mandoline is also a very dangerous kitchen tool. A couple of years ago I posted a photo of my finger dripping blood after going just a bit too far slicing a potato with my mandoline. You just always think there’s a little more there than there actually is!

My friend Richard recommended a kevlar glove, and it is a lifesaver. Perhaps literally. Even if I want to slice one little carrot, I put on my glove! I will alway be thankful for Richard’s recommendation, and to this day my fingertips are intact.

66 thoughts on “Public Service Announcement

  1. Great tips. I have only cut myself once and that was peeling potatoes. As for the mandolin-that is yet to be determined but all signed point to ‘its only a matter of time’. I have the awful habit of placing my index finger along the top of a knife when chopping-working on correcting that. Great post :)

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  2. First of all, you totally crack me up – second, I feel as if we have been separated from birth. When I was a cooking teacher, I remember one time when I was teaching in a school on the Maine Coast, and the assistants kept saying, you are so clean! (translation: you clean up after yourself) and I would say, that’s because I’m a cooking teacher teaching HOME COOKS not a chef with a staff! I keep meaning to buy a Kevlar glove, thanks for the PSA!!!
    I don’t get to write comments often, but I love reading your blog, especially now that I haven’t been writing my own because I am busy with our Airbnb rentals in the White Mountains — still cooking, but not writing, maybe I will again soon! Cheers Mimi!

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    • When I saw your face I immediately remembered your blog and thought that once again WordPress had dropped me from following you. Good to know things are going well. Yes, chefs are not home cooks, and in my bio, I actually say something about comparing what we have learned from cooking for families for umpteen years vs. what chef’s learn in chef’s school. I’m not saying I have culinary school experience, but I have many years of feeding a family with different tastes, needs, day after day, sometimes on an extreme budget!!!

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  3. In that case, Spirited Cook and Mimi, we must be triplets! I once put the blood into a blood orange gin. I haven’t seen half of those shows, being a Brit, but you still made me laugh. Did you ever see our late lamented Fanny Cradock? She cooked in a ball gown and had a cowed husband called Johnny who famously once ended a show on doughnuts by intoning ‘If you try that recipe at home, I hope your doughnuts turn out like Fanny’s’. Bear in mind fannies on this side of the Atlantic refer to – er – front bottoms. Lx

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  4. I enjoyed going down memory lane with you as I remember and love many of those chefs today. I’m pretty careful getting the pit out of an avocado but a mandoline scares me. Never had an accident probably because I rarely, if ever, use it!

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  5. Some good tips and insightful points about cooking shows. I learned a lot from the shows, but never have tried to adopt “cheffy” knife skills and have only taken in what I thought I could manage. That being said, I know it is true that people love to watch the shows, but can be intimidated by cooking a bit more from the watching of the pros. While I’ve not yet (she says knocking on wood and with fingers crossed and intact) sliced my hand from hacking a pit in an avocado, I do use that technique, cautiously. I have a mandolin but kind of avoid it not only for fear of slicing my hand while using it but also while cleaning it. I like the idea of the kevlar glove and wonder if you can use it while washing the thing, lol! Another item to be cautious about is the blade on a food processor. I always give it wide berth when assembling, disassembling and cleaning it. Thoughtful post, thanks!

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  6. I used to watch Julia Child as a kid, and between her example and that of A. J. McClane (Field and Stream Magazine angling editor and renowned seafood/fish chef who also studied the culinary arts in France) I dreamed of one day attending a top culinary institution. It never worked out… But, a few years ago Barbra and I stumbled onto The Great Courses where Bill Briwa, Executive Chef of the American Culinary Institute, has DVD’s/online videos that provide excellent instruction. So, thanks to the remarkable times in which we live, in a way I finally did get to study with a master chef. By the way, we, too, are huge fans of Shun knives – though, no, neither of us can slice an onion like the pros. Thanks as always Chef for an interesting post. JD

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  7. Since my middle name is “klutz” (really it’s Grace and that’s an oxymoron) I have always put the avocado on a cutting board and whacked it that way. I don’t trust slinging a knife towards my hand. AND my mandoline has a finger cutting guard. It’s a cheap $10 mandoline but no chance of slicing off my fingertip. I was addicted to Yan Can Cook and the Frugal Gourmet back in the 80s. I also watched an Italian cooking show but don’t remember the name of it, but the host was female. Maybe it was Ina Garten? Anyways, great PSA for all!

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  8. Some of the cooking shows used to be good for techniques and inspiration but now all they seem to show are silly game shows…no knowledge to be gained. Your public service announcement is a good one. I seem to be like you with burns on my arms because I’m so short.

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  9. I think we’ve all done it but that’s because we are all tryers who want to be in the kitchen. My regular injury is on the outside of my forearms whilst chasing something in the oven. I’m not up to a mandoline, the cheap one I bought was a death trap!

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  10. I’m a bad boy! I still pick my avocados that way, and I never use a glove or the feeder apparatus when I slice on my mandoline. Luckily, I haven’t been struck down yet. However, using my CUTCO bread knife, I did manage to get seven stitches in my thumb because I wasn’t paying attention while slicing. They say football is dangerous…

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  11. Hahaaa my sweet, sweet friend! Well said, and “amen”! I truly believe you nailed it on the head when you said they “inspired” us and “dampened” our culinary spirits at the same time. I have learned so much, will continue to improve my “home cook” skills as well. I’m nowhere near their caliber obviously, but I’m fine with that!

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  12. What a crazy way to get the pit out of an avocado. You are right to warn against it. Also not good: cutting a ‘petit pan’ (single serving french bread) in half while holding it in your hand. I guess cutting yourself is part of cooking (either professionally or at home), but it helps to be sensible! Great post, Mimi.

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  13. Oh no! I was really lucky – the knife just drew a line of blood, but it wasn’t serious. When my son-in-law did this the knife went through his hand, so I know for sure he was stabbing at the pit. I didn’t want to give him a hard time about it because it was so painful!

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  14. Very good advice Mimi. I actually had advice to never have too sharp knives, as if you have contact it’ll be an instant cut. If they are slightly blunt you’ll probably not cut yourself. I see his point, but then I thought if I do have a super sharp knife, it’ll be a painless clean cut!

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  15. Hey Mimi – I thought you wrote a post on choosing a name for your blog, and why nowadays you might not choose Chef MImi? But I could be wrong I cannot find it here. Also funnily enough, the public service announcement title was so off-putting ( I thought it was really a public service: this blog is on hold for a bit or some such thing, that I almost didn’t click it, and then when I did I realised how fun it was. just a bit of feedback which I hope is ok. I agree that I also get frustrated when I see a proper chef chop an onion in 2 seconds flat most frustrating…

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  16. Hi Mimi! Can you repost your chili recipe made with beef short ribs? I can’t seem to locate it. This PSA is great! I recently attended a cooking class presented by Sara Moulton. She has been working with the California Avocado Commission to educate people on this issue. Thank you. Carrie Shreck >

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  17. I really miss those shows and the early days of Food Network. Some of shows, one specifically filmed in Oklahoma, may be the most insipid thing I have ever seen….(and I only watched it twice…no more!) Anywhoo, thanks for the safety tips!!!!!!

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