The great challenge of cooking is to derive deep satisfaction from the mundane.
Today we had off due to President’s Day, so I spent my time sharpening my knives. This is something that I do on a weekly basis and it can be quite time consuming. In fact I spent nearly an hour and a half sharpening. The reason why I felt this was important was because I have heard Keller’s statement twice. The first time I actually saw it in his book, The French Laundry. For those of you who don’t know, that is one of his cookbooks that highlights the majority of the recipes from his restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley. The second time I heard it was from my Fish Chef, Viverito. He talked about how he found scaling fish one of the most relaxing things he could do.When I sharpen my knives I usually do it alone. While there are plenty of distractions around I have never found it difficult to focus. I wet my stone and start. I could work for hours and not even feel tired. It is something so mundane and tedious that it allows my mind to wander but become refreshed at the same time; a perfect form of meditation.
The funny thing is that I really don’t look forward to sharpening each week. I see it as a chore that requires attention. But for some reason, every time I begin sharpening I just feel relaxed. I have begun to sharpen knives for other students for money. I do have quite a decent reputation when it comes to knife skills. If you saw me walking around with short sleeves you would notice how my left arm is hairless. I have talked about this briefly before in my short on Signs of a Chef.
But back to sharpening, I guess the best way to explain what happens is that I enter a zen state; it feels like meditation. I think one of my favorite parts of sharpening is that other people will watch. It’s not like I am doing anything fancy. There are no flourishes and it isn’t a show but people feel compelled to watch me for 5-10 strokes of my knife.