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A long time ago, back when we were still cooking in the Serious Eats test kitchen, we shot a video for my French-style brown butter potatoes. Before every shoot there's always an hour or so of set-up, with Joel Russo, our resident expert in all things video, tinkering with cameras and lighting, while I do last-minute knife work and get all the mise en place into cute little bowls.
Usually, the time leading up to a shoot is a bit of a mad dash to get all the time-sensitive kitchen prep work done before shooting—making sure that doughs are properly proofed, or figuring out a plan B because there wasn't any good-looking asparagus at the farmers market that morning, etc. It's the closest I get to recreating that high-adrenaline scramble of getting set up for a busy service in a restaurant kitchen. But for this shoot, there wasn't much to do. The only prep work beyond rinsing potatoes involved slicing some chives.
In many restaurant kitchens, picking and slicing herbs for garnish is usually one of the last things you do before diners walk in the door (some chefs even insist on cutting all herbs to order). More often than not, cooks are running behind on completing all the tasks on their prep lists when service begins, so if you peek into a kitchen right when the doors open, it's pretty common to see all the cooks on the line hurriedly picking cilantro and slicing chives. In one of the kitchens I worked in, I was responsible for slicing chives for every station in the kitchen, and it was always the final task I had to cross off my prep list before chugging a coffee and getting crushed with orders.
It was at these jobs that I was taught to cut chives in a very specific way, using a method called the back-slice. It's the technique that I still use today when cutting chives, scallions, and other delicate herbs, but especially those in the allium family. So, while Joel fiddled around with the positioning of an overhead camera and various lighting stands, I back-sliced chives for sprinkling over brown butter-drenched potatoes.
After watching me for a bit and noting how fastidious I was being about a little garnish, Joel started asking me questions about what I was doing. I explained my reasoning, and we decided it would be useful to produce a brief knife skills video on the subject. And here we are.
Is mastering the perfect chive-slicing technique the most important thing for home cooks? Absolutely not. But a lot of people are cooking more than ever at home these days, so hopefully this will be helpful for anyone looking to practice and hone their knife skills in the kitchen. At the very least, it's another chance to sound off in the comments about how all my videos should be played at 1.5x speed. I'm all for convincing Joel to just jack up the playback speed since my artificially sped-up knife skills will make my chive slicing look even more impressive.
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