Flay Your Friends And Family
THERE are some things that I am loath to do.
One is to buy goods from a hucksters demonstration. Clearly there should be some benefit in obtaining equipment after being coached in its use by an expert, but in practice it doesn't work like that. Inevitably the cunning contraption that chops, cooks, and cleans the cutlery is wielded by an expert who studied for 20 years to become a Zen master. They do not require this gadget. On their higher plane of existence they can shine shoes with an amiable glance and cut cheese using only the pure power of thought. Sadly, when you take your purchase home you find yourself with an unusable lump of stainless steel and plastic.
It can be tempting though. As I passed through Victoria Station one December I tried unsuccessfully to remain cynical and detached during repeated demonstrations of the Börner V chopper. A jovial Northerner reduced shallots to slices in seconds, and produced chipped potatoes in moments. Courgettes, carrots and cabbages capitulated and in a trice he was surrounded by massive mounds of vivisected vegetables. In plausible Yorkshire tones the expert explained that the V shaped blade and the safety holder were models of Teutonic efficiency; in the Börner's native Germany, every houseproud hausfrau has at least six, and fussy fräuleins have a dozen. But I didn't buy, not wanting to feel foolish if it all turned out wrong.
Until finally while sozzled after pre-Christmas drinkies, I decided to take a chance. Even so I felt a little embarrassed, and when I returned home I filed it away. Alison was sorting out the kitchen after Christmas, and asked about the box on the high shelves, and why was it strangely out of her reach? I took it down, relating how and where I had bought it. She fixed me with a Paddington hard stare as if to say:
a) You bought this from a Zen master; and
b) This is an useless lump of stainless steel and plastic.
Alison then tried it out, just to show how unusable it was. Seconds later, eyeing a vast pile of chopped onions with extreme suspicion, she conceded that it had its good points.
It has some extremely good points, and indeed the Börner V chopper changes lives. The boring and predictable truth is that it is an excellent chopping device, not at all the same as a food processor, and vastly easier to clean. Alison and I, keen vegetable and salad eaters to begin with, increased our intake of the green stuff significantly, and the effects were profound. We owe our slim and sylphlike figures to the marvel of the Börner V chopper. Or at least we would, if we didn't follow the P-Plan diet during Plokta weekends.
Less straightforwardly, this wonderful kitchen tool fired us with evangelical zeal-we felt compelled to share the good news with all our friends and relatives.
Do you remember that earlier I mentioned a safety holder? You use the Börner by fixing an onion or whatever into the holder, and rubbing it briskly across a board holding a V shaped blade. During the demonstration they were keen to emphasise that you should always use the safety holder, but conceded that for broadly cylindrical vegetables like cucumbers or carrots, it was probably safe not to, as long as you watched what you were doing, and stopped well before you reached your fingers.
If people don't follow this advice then the Börner really does change lives, mutilating your friends and relations. We gave one as a gift to my sister, who sang its praises loudly, until an unfortunate bit of hurried hacking sent her hotfoot into hospital. Alison took our Börner on a trip to a youth hostel, showed the others how to use it before going out to buy more wine, and came back to find them bleeding copiously over the kitchen. A fannish foodie friend managed to cut a lump off his fingertips twice in one evening.
Which led me to wonder about the Zen master's assertion that the Börner is omni-present in German households. I supposed that completists might want one in each of six colours (in the UK it is only available in white, but the instructions mostly show it in a ghastly orange, with other options including violent violet). I pondered the stereotypical German who eats very little in the way of fresh vegetables, but then remembered their fascination with sauerkraut. Clearly the Börner was designed for the sole purpose of shredding cabbage, and its other useful functions are purely incidental. I also realised that our German cousins:
a) always use the Safety-Hölder; and
b) think of it as evolution in action when non-compliant foreigners cut themselves.
Seriously though, the Börner is really useful. It has significantly affected our eating habits, and has been a genuinely time and labour saving device. Alison and I have both suffered minor cuts, but then we use it all the time. Like any cutting tool, it needs to be treated with respect. There may be a benefit from watching the demonstration, as both Alison and I have. I resolved to investigate. But when one cold winter morning I saw the Zen master at work, the question slipped my mind. I asked instead what price he might have paid on the road to perfection. The master winked, and held up a hand showing four and a half fingers.