At a recent class I taught I asked one of my helpers to slice some potatoes. Then I offered to let her use one of my knives. Although the kitchen I was teaching in had plenty of knives - expensive knives - they don't belong to anyone and so they aren't cared for. They're dull and abused and so I always use my own knives and I seldom allow anyone else to use them so this was quite an honor for her (though she didn't know it). Nevertheless she refused and chose one of the dull and mistreated house knives. Like most amateur cooks she was afraid of a sharp knife. There are things to be more afraid of in the kitchen.
I have relatively few scars from knife wounds. Most of my scars are burns. Currently my favorite scar is on the back of one hand. It's curved from the position my hand was in when I accidentally pressed it against a hot oven rack and it happens to match exactly the curve of a vein on that hand. It seems sort of elegant.
I have burn scars (most well-faded) on my hands and arms. I even have several burns on my stomach from an occasion (at home) when I carelessly flipped something I was pan-frying and my shirt wasn't buttoned. The hot oil hit my belly in several spots and caused some significant burns.
I posted this story on Facebook and every professional cook that commented noted the same thing - far more burn scars than knife scars. One friend wrote: "My hands are a burn farm. All scars. I'll never be a hand model." You can make a knife sharper and in doing so make it safer because it requires less effort to use and becomes more accurate. There's nothing you can do to make 375 degree oil or a 500 degree oven safer.
That said, professional cooks usually wear chef jackets - primarily to avoid burns. A proper jacket is made from heavy cotton so it provides protection if you brush your arm against a hot oven rack, lean against a sizzling burner, or get splashed with hot oil. The cotton is flammable, so it can be ignited by a flame, but because it's so heavy it's not easy to ignite and so far safer than most other materials.
- A few tips:
- To avoid burning themselves with hot skillets (skillets that have been in the oven) chefs drape a towel over the handle.
- To avoid splashes from hot oil, when adding a fillet or cutlet to a hot skillet dip one end in the pan near you then lay down away from you.
- Be sure whatever you're adding to hot oil isn't wet to avoid splattering - it will also brown better if dry.
- Lift the lids on steaming pots from the side opposite you to avoid steam burns.
- Always turn the handles on skillets parallel to the front of the stove and ideally toward the nearest side of the stove.
- Keep a fire extinguisher, rated for grease fires, in the kitchen and remind yourself how to use it regularly.
So keep your knives sharp, and remember heat is the greatest kitchen danger.