I think I was 18. It signified that I was an adult, I suppose. It was the year my dad gave me my chef’s knife for my birthday. German. Wusthof. Classic. 8 inches… not as long as his more masculine 10 inch knife, but better for a woman he said. Fits better in your hand. Heavy, curved blade, that is meant to do the work for you, given the appropriate technique.
I hadn’t yet grown to love cooking, but it was his passion, and as he did, he shared his passions with me on those occasions we saw each other. I knew it was a special gift, though. My mom and he had divorced when I was two, and he had floated all over California over the years from 2-18. He eventually landed in Escondido, CA which was a more manageable distance than many of his prior residences, so I got to see him more then. When ever I would visit, we would go to the grocery store and shop for dinner, then we would go to his house, and I would watch him cook. I think this is why I still love to go to the grocery store. He would give me the play by play instructions of why he was doing what he was doing, how to season the food, how to hold the knife, and eventually he would let me participate. He was “Emeril Live” before there was a Food Network, but a lot less PC.
When he gave me the knife, I remember him being proud, maybe a bit hesitant. Would I appreciate the craftsmanship? The tradition? Yes, I would. He explained all the features of this relatively simple and age old tool, and explained to me that if I took care of it, it would last me a life time.
He was right. The knife explores new culinary adventures with me daily. 21 years later, it is that knife which I reach for first, and I’m thankful I have that reminder which can keep his memory with me. Just above it, in the knife block, is a more tangible memory of his legacy. It’s his 10 inch chef’s knife. JT carved into the handle. Elongated, worn, slightly unkempt, a little unwieldy in my hand, but sharp, efficient and loved. You could describe him in very similar words.
Was it the knife? The quality of it? Was it the ability to fend for myself? Having a tool that would serve me forever? Was it the knowledge that he shared with me? Or was it the passion with which he shared it? It was all of it, really. And it is irreplaceable.
How to be Neighborly: Live your life with passion, and share that passion with others.