View Full Version : Observations from a Kaiseki kitchen

07-19-2013, 11:37 PM
Hey everyone,
I have been working in a Kaiseki restaurant for a few months with four guys from Japan and i've noticed some things about their work habits, specifically related to knife use and care that i thought i'd share.
But first, I'd like to stress that i am not in any way suggesting that Japanese cooks and chefs are infallible in their knife knowledge and skills. Just sharing some observations here is all, as we are all clearly enamored with the world of hocho.

- Patina is not considered good in any way. It is simply seen as a dirty knife, period. Three of the four guys i work with favor stainless, and the executive chef who uses all carbon keeps his clean (not sparkling, like baking soda clean).

- Nobody rock chops anything, ever. Again, not saying that's a bad way to cut (though i sure as hell don't do it).

- Everyone sharpens their wa-gyutos and pettys symmetrically.

- I've seen a mandoline used once, for about three minutes. everything is done with a knife, including in hand peeling of vegetables. for really fine julienne, katsuramuki is used.

- Everyone keeps a wet towel on the side of their board and wipes their knives very frequently.(In fact, as a side note, the towel situation is totally different from a western kitchen. you get one, maybe two wet dish towels a day for wiping knives down. nobody uses them to pick up hot pans, they use forceps).

- Nobody uses a honing rod, ever. i don't think any of these guys own one or even know how to use them.

- and finally, NOBODY TOUCHES ANY ONE ELSES KNIFE without asking first for good reason.

There's more, but i forget now because it's my friday and i'm enjoying a Stone IPA.


07-19-2013, 11:47 PM
Yup... Many of my experiences echo that, except for the stainless knives. In the higher end places you won't see stainless much at all. Also, I'm guessing their gyuto a are all 270mm, right?

07-19-2013, 11:54 PM
Yeah it's not in that extreme high end of kitchen where there's an array of carbon knives all task specific, mukimonos, hamokiris, etc.
Funny thing about the gyuto, they all have different sizes, One dude has a 270 (Suisin IH), the sous has a 240 (Echizen), the exec chef has a 210 super laser (it's gotta be like 1.5mm at the heel, printed kanji long since gone), and the lead line cook, who just kills it with his knife work, uses only a suisin IH 180 petty!

07-19-2013, 11:59 PM
That's odd to be honest... 270mm gyuto are by far the most popular size in Japan.

07-20-2013, 12:01 AM
on the symmetric sharpening thing too, my sous chef stressed to me that gyutos are not 'wa-bocho'. there's some language barrier stuff going on but i took it to mean that they are not traditional single bevel knives and should never be sharpened as such. Jon i know you keep having to tell people this over and over again...

07-20-2013, 12:12 AM
Yup... Wa-bocho refers to single bevel knives while hocho is a more general term for knives. And even though some more inexperienced Japanese chefs will sharpen all knives like single bevels (especially ones that have come to the us based on my experience), more experienced chefs in Japan know better (like the guys you're working with)

Brad Gibson
07-20-2013, 04:44 AM
Very cool stuff. I'd really enjoy working in a Japanese kitchen and honing my knife skills to the maximum. I hope it can be my next move, professionally. Thanks for sharing!

07-20-2013, 04:47 AM
What restaurant in NYC are you working at may I ask? Kyoya? By any chance?

07-20-2013, 09:07 AM
What restaurant in NYC are you working at may I ask? Kyoya? By any chance?

I love Kyo Ya, Sono-san is the man! but no, i'm at Kajitsu right now

07-20-2013, 02:04 PM
I love Kyo Ya, Sono-san is the man! but no, i'm at Kajitsu right now

That is awesome. I read the NY Times review of Kajitsu. From what I read, you are making some fantastic food there.

07-20-2013, 03:50 PM
Thanks Mike!

Keith Sinclair
07-21-2013, 02:14 AM
Congrads on your job.Learn as much as you can fr. those guys.All the high end Sushi chefs I know use carbon single bevels Yanagiba,Deba etc.,Including the owner of A-Frames who was Sushi Chef at Tokyo Tokyo here in Honolulu.You are right they never use steels,only stones.The Gyuto are double bevel,but almost all Japanese gyuto are Assem.I am not sure why,but to me they cut better than 50/50 edges.

07-21-2013, 07:43 AM
Just checked out the menu. Shojin; not true kaiseki, but looks pretty good. How long have you been open? I don't remember Kajitsu when I was still in NY.

07-21-2013, 09:37 AM
Hi, thanks for sharing!

I have a few questions about knife skills (esp. with the usuba), perhaps you can help me?

I've read Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes, and while it is a wonderful book it focuses on cuts less familiar to westerners (katsuramuki and ken, sasagaki, chasen-giri...). But not, for example:
- how to cut an apple or root veg in half with the usuba without breaking it
- is there a difference in how to dice vegetables with the usuba compared with western technique? (I assume there must be, otherwise how to get a medium/large dice without wedging/breaking the veg?)
- do people in your kitchen ever mince anything (e.g. garlic - not so common in Japanese cuisine, but maybe something else)? If yes, how do they avoid rocking? I read before that the deba would be used in this case.


07-21-2013, 02:23 PM
i think you'll find that many chefs use gyuto for cutting larger harder things in half (i.e. gyuto to cut diakon into the size needed for katsuramuki).

On dice, i dont know why, but i never had a probelm with wedging... done it a whole bunch. But you see markedly less dicing in this kind of cuisine.

Mincing occurs, and can be done as a bruniose is done by using an usuba.

07-21-2013, 02:53 PM
oroshigane is used as well for making 'minced' ginger (or shoga) but it produces something closer to a paste than a mince.
and in shojin ryori there's no garlic used so..

07-21-2013, 04:14 PM
I've always wanted to go to kajitsu. Especially before they moved. I've been at brushstroke for a year now. We should get together for a beer some day! Sono San at Kyoya is indeed an amazing nice guy.

07-21-2013, 04:39 PM
Hi guys,

Not sure if the asymmetrical vs symmetrical thing is offtopic, but I thought my input might be a little useful here:

I showed the guy at Shigeharu in Kyoto (is he called Shigeharu? I just call him Oji-san haha) my 99/1 Aritsugu A-type gyuto, and while he gave me a lecture on overgrinds, shinogi lines and my pitiful sharpening skills, he seemed to approve of the asymmetry!


07-23-2013, 10:58 AM
Can you explain the regular stone progression you guys use?

09-08-2015, 12:37 AM
Random bump on this thread, but I thought this was a cool idea and was interested if anyone else here has had experiences to share from working in Japanese kitchens.

That's odd to be honest... 270mm gyuto are by far the most popular size in Japan.

^ I'm really curious about this part especially.

You almost never see 270mm+ gyutos in kitchens here in America. And generally speaking you will see many more 210's instead of 240's. In fact, using a 270 will garner a lot of comments from my experiences.

So I'm interested if anyone has insight in why Japanese cooks might prefer to buy 270 gyutos. More life out of their blade? It just goes against the grain of what I've seen in Western kitchens and I would also assume that kitchens in the US tend to be a little bit bigger than those found in most of Japan.

09-08-2015, 12:43 AM
Heh. When I started cooking, I ran across a quote from Jacques Pepin in which he advised using the biggest knife you were comfortable with. I took this to heart, accepted it as a macho challenge, and used an 11" F. Dick for years. Still use a 270mm Tadatsuna gyuto for almost everything, even though I'm now mostly a home cook. It elicits few comments, except when I pare with the thing.

09-08-2015, 06:53 AM
You almost never see 270mm+ gyutos in kitchens here in America. And generally speaking you will see many more 210's instead of 240's. In fact, using a 270 will garner a lot of comments from my experiences.

I honestly think part of it is cost. Cooks and chefs buy nicer, more expensive knives now and often times the jump to a 270 can be a good hunk of change which is rough on a cook's salary. For example, I own a 210 Kato, even though I'd normally get a 240 because I just couldn't justify spending that much more on an already super expensive knife.

Keith Sinclair
09-08-2015, 06:50 PM
Larger the blade longer it lasts. Many cooks including Japanese nationals I've worked with use their double & single bevel knives for years until very well worn. Always had a 270mm in my kit, mostly used 240. A worn down knife can still get very sharp on the stones.

I think the French used large knives too, looking at old carbon Sabatiers there are more large blades than medium or small.

09-08-2015, 08:39 PM
Yah. Part of my reasoning was, that a big knife could be used for smaller tasks, but lack of length could be limiting, so I used one, big gyuto in the kitchen figuring I wouldn't need to buy another for awhile, so I could save money that way. Of course, now I have... four 270mm gyutos. Now that I'm a home cook, I'm beginning to wonder if I couldn't use, say, a 240.