by Prof. Steve Holzinger
Summer time is party time! Parties in the summer are always better if you have a tray of melons and fruit. Everyone enjoys a fruit tray, and they are very good looking on any table. What is more, this is an item that can be made a day ahead of the party, and kept in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap. If you don't have room, you can make up the components, wrap and store them, and assemble the finished piece right on your party table. with just a few simple knife techniques that are easily learned you can make an impressive display that will be the hit of your party. Good knife work is one of the basic tools of every chef. These techniques are amply illustrated in a well written book called "Garnishing, A Feast for Your Eyes, by Francis T. Lynch, ISBN 0-89586-476-2, by HPBooks. Francis has generously allowed me to reproduce the pages you will need for a Melon Swan and the wedge cuts in our recipe section, so you will have a chance to try this book out for yourself.
One of the first things that I learned in the kitchen is the adage, "Many hands make light work." In this, and other columns to come, I will bring talented professional chefs, garde mangers and bakers, to help me teach you the basics of Cuisine. For a number of years while I was teaching, I was a Member of the Jury at the Annual Salon of Culinary Art in New York City, sponsored by the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique. There I met many of the country's top people in our field, and I hope to bring some of them to you to share their knowledge of Fonds de Cuisine.
In this article, I bring you the Chef de Buffet in the Encore Restaurant at the New York Marriot Hotel, Frantze Saint-Fort, who will show us how to prepare a Melon and Fruit tray. (Frantze was a favorite student of mine.) I took pictures as she worked to show you how you can make the same thing. The amazing thing about this tray is how few and simple the techniques are.
You will need to pare the rind from a round object, like a melon, pineapple or an orange. You will need to make wedge cuts. (See recipe Wedge Cuts) and channel cuts. You will need to make straight slices.
That's it! This entire tray will be made using these very simple cuts.
You will need a sharp Cooks Knife, paring knife, and a small V shaped chisel or channeling knife. I once lost my V shaped cutter on a job, and made one out of the lid of a tin can by putting a single 30 degree bend in it over the edge of a counter. Far better and safer to buy one. For a garde manger, sharp knives made of stainless steel are essential, because much of the time you will want to cut acid fruits that would stain a regular knife. Frantze was using a very nice scallop edged stainless knife. Such a knife is a good investment as it never (well hardly ever) gets dull. The stainless steel used in the better class of chefs knives is very hard, and holds an edge well. My mother had a blue glass scalloped knife that was razor sharp (until I dropped it). I never see these any more. I wonder if they are even made today. They are perfect for this kind of work.
To pare the rind from a melon, you first cut a slice off the bottom and top so it stands flat. This cut should be deep enough to expose the meat, but not so deep that you waste fruit. It is a compromise. Now keeping in mind that the object is round, not square, you are going to cut off a strip of rind, moving from top to bottom of the melon. The knife and your forearm will move back and forth, parallel to the table top, like you were playing a violin, and move downwards at the same time. A sort of rectangular strip will come off. Do the next cut just touching the first. There will be little strips of unpeeled rind left on. Don't worry, just keep making the larger cuts until you have gone all around the world. Then go back and get the little parts that you left on. You can use your paring knife.
Over the years, as I have visited the homes of friends and relatives, when I wanted to bring a small house gift as a visit, I brought Dexter or Lampson American made paring knives. On later visits some years later, people often said to me, "You know, I still have that knife you gave me. I use it all the time, its my favorite." A good paring knife is a worthwhile investment. I'm going to find you a good source for high quality knives and kitchen tools at fair prices. You will need it.
There are two kinds on channeling knives. One has a V shaped opening in the middle of the blade. You draw it towards you to groove the fruit. A string of fruit curls towards you as you pull. Easy. The other kind is a V shaped chisel. You push the chisel, maintaining even pressure to keep the cut all at the same deepness. That is it. You can practice these channel cuts on a lemon. Put the cuts about 1/4 inch apart from top to bottom. Then slice across the lemon for slices with a fluted edge. They look nice with fish.
Hey, that is it folks. I assume that you can make a straight slice of an even and equal width across a piece of fruit. Practice with an apple cut in half. Use the other half to practice wedge cuts. Eat the practice...it keeps the doctor away.
To make the melon and fruit tray, begin by peeling the melons, and pineapple. Cut the honeydew and pineapple in quarters, and the cantaloupe in half and channel cut them. Make the slices bite size.
When you lay the sliced quarters of melon on the tray, use your hands to spread the slices out, forming the basic layout of the tray.
© 1995, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 1995, 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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