Nice Like a Flute Like a Pen
There are various stories why, (Pilgrim Fathers, King George III) but the classic American method of using cutlery is very strange, even to most Americans. They are fast giving up the switching method (see below) and either moving to the European hold or inventing some pretty weird, very personalised styles. (See it at the movies.) Here we’re getting some pretty strange cutlery holds too.
Blame modern parenting, where direction to a classic norm is a no-no. But changes also come as a result of embracing the wide spectrum of cultures and cuisines now available to us. We love to taste and to learn and at times we’ve had to check our eating utensils.
The European method has the fork in the left hand & the knife in the right, in such a way that it looks effortless and elegant. It works ergonomically.
IMO it’s ugly to see people holding their cutlery badly. Margaret Visser (in her riveting book Much Depends on Dinner) suggests that etiquette is about shielding others from our vile bodies and ugly habits – a question of form and function. There’s some ghastly stuff out there as well as some awkwardness, embarrassment and lack of confidence in public.
Now you might be a Rugged Individualist who believes you use your cutlery however you like - and you are correct. But not helping children to adopt good cutlery habits is doing them a disservice. So I’ve been doing some research, and looking and analysis to try to come up with some personal cohesive guidelines.
Sandwiches, Chips (French fries) in a tub, Hamburgers, Asparagus (served on its own).
Sushi (Yes, in a high end sushi restaurant, sushi is picked up, turned over and the topping dipped into its sauce and popped into the mouth whole, topping hitting the tongue. “Sushi Train” offers chopsticks - inverse snobbery? – and more chopsticks will be used as lovers of sushi grows.
Cake (not a gooey dessert) Yes, cake forks are a bit naff. I knew someone who put out cake forks for a mug of teabag tea and a chocolate Digestive.
Pizza - It's the perfect fast, street food. Fold in half if necessary but eat with fingers.
Eat with knife & fork
Most dishes particularly a meat or fish with vegetable accompaniments, in other words a classic European or Anglo-Saxon food.
Keep knife and fork in the same dimension throughout the meal, down on your plate when talking – not in the air. (I must confess I allow myself the “solecism” of changing hands when I eat peas. Peas are a nightmare in the left hand and I love them so much and I excuse it as following a French pattern. Ha Ha.)
But some things are down-right awkward and therefore ugly. As well as HKLP (which is more twee than ugly) I’ve seen what I’ll call HKLD (favourite of he-men, holds knife like dagger) and worse yet, HFLF (hold fork like flute). Try it. (See post 21st November, 2017)
Fork (or fork and spoon)
“Healthy” recipes from magazine food today are often “chop-ups” that don't work well with knife and fork, especially if eaten in front of a screen, but do yourself a style favour and make it at least a spoon and fork.
In Europe, certain stew-like, one pot dishes are good with fork and tablespoon e.g Cassoulet, Couscous and even Chilli Con Carne.
Middle Eastern food will never have a knife (which can symbolize aggression and violence).
Dessert or pudding - If a lazy restaurant gives you only a spoon, ask for a fork (or you’ll push your food with your thumb).
Spoon only (tablespoon)
Risotto, Soup (British round spoon or Continental tablespoon), Baby food
Pasta - Something worth practicing. Does ravioli have a spoon and fork?
Asian food often consists of chopped pieces. (There's a reason.) If you can’t use chopsticks, use a fork and spoon.
Thai food is eaten with spoon and fork (unless it’s an imported Chinese-style noodle dish). I asked a Thai restaurateur why she offered spoon and fork and chopsticks. She said it was because her customers thought they should use chopsticks and the restaurant was too polite to disabuse them. (They are kind people.)
Memo: Must talk to some chopsticks users about good chopstick habits.
Fish Knife and Fork
Totally naff so don't bother to collect them. They were intended anyway for eating whole fish and since a whole trout, for example, is rarely served today (there are reasons), there's no need for them. It is particularly naff to serve fish knives and forks for prawns and scallops which some naff restaurants do. (We might have to have a whole post on fish eating.)
Napkin rings - only with family or for guests staying the night.
Your reward for reading so far - The Donald in his plane. Not a gourmet obviously but not a bad knife and fork hold. (See post 9th October, 2017)
I discussed the habit of switching the fork from one hand to another with an elegant Southern Belle matron. The method involves holding food down with the fork in the left hand, cutting it with the knife in the right hand, putting the knife down on the side of plate, moving the fork to the right hand, eating the cut morsel, moving the fork back to the left hand, picking up the knife in the right hand - repeat, repeat repeat.
"Doesn't that take time?" I asked
"What's the hurry?" she replied.
Beautiful! Insane but I loved her reasoning! (I'm still investigating the origin of this.)
This is a blog post to which I hope you'll all contribute.