Knife Skills

As human beings, there are certain ideas that are universal and simple in concept, but in execution requires us to go beyond what is comfortable. One idea is a simple concept called forgiveness.

Knife Skills is a documentary short by Thomas Lennon (not that one) about the opening of Edwin’s, a new high-end French restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. What is unique about Edwin’s is the entire staff, except for the head chef, is comprised of men and women recently released from prison.

The statistics shouldn’t surprise anyone. The percentage of ex-convicts returning to prison within three years of release is staggeringly high. It’s even worse within the first year. One of the keys to keeping the ex-cons out of prison is finding a job that pays enough to maintain a living. For obvious reasons, businesses would rather hire a person with no criminal record. Thus, a classic catch-22 conundrum for a person trying to put his/her life back together.

“The percentage of ex-convicts returning to prison within three years of release is staggeringly high…”

The overall principle behind Knife Skills is simple and beautiful. Edwin’s is a rehabilitation program. 70 men and women enter the program each assigned to a specific role in the restaurant: cooking, serving, hosting, and the bar. Nothing is dumbed-down for anyone. This is an expensive French restaurant with a 25-item menu. All cooks must learn all 25 items along with the fancy rose sculpted from a tomato. Servers must learn and explain all 25 items and provide first-class service to customers. Those working the bar must quickly become experts in wine and wine pairing.

The program is not easy. Participants must learn not only the food but its origins as well. They take quizzes on France and its culinary regions in order to continue. A high level of discipline is required and demanded from everyone. While the program starts with 70 people, that number slowly dwindled over time for various reason.

“Participants must learn not only the food but its origins as well.”

Edwin’s is itself a high-pressure situation. Cooks make 160 meals, not all perfect. Servers forget ingredients on the menu and struggle to keep with the fast-paced restaurant environment. Not everyone director Lennon follows graduates from the program. People drop out due to insubordination or relapses into their past life. But there is a real sense of a second chance in life for those who graduate.

Lennon does a great job not only promoting Edwin’s like an amazing opportunity for ex-convicts to look to a brighter future, but he manages to get some great and sometimes bitterly honest interviews from the program’s participants and shows off the incredible heart of those in charge. Knife Skills is about people going above and beyond to give people redemption when the rest of the world wouldn’t bother.

What makes Edwin’s, and in turn Knife Skills, amazing is its goal of rehabilitation. It’s about forgiveness, offering hope and giving second chances.

Knife Skills (2017) Directed by Thomas Lennon.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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