The New Yorker‘s food issue came out recently and in there was a fascinating article about knives. The author followed a man named Bob Kramer who is only one of 122 people in the world who carries the title of master bladesmith. This man hand makes knives and has (at press time) a two year waiting list for his creations. Two things about this story really caught my eye. One is that the guy is local (used to live in Seattle and now lives in Olympia) – I’m a sucker for a fellow Northwestener. The other is that they mentioned that in a Cook’s Illustrated article on chef’s knives, the very frugally minded magazine rated Kramer’s very expensive knife as the best they had ever tested.
Reading this article got me really thinking about my knives. In the 16 years I have been cooking, I’ve never really loved a knife. I started out with some rejects from my mom’s knife block and a few I picked up from Goodwill. When I got married the first time, I registered for a whole Henckel’s set and did certainly notice that they were better. Along the way, I have upgraded and tried new things, all the while not really knowing what I was looking for and just falling for a pretty (Shun) and not so pretty (Global) face.
When you read about knives, one of the first things they mention is balance. The knife should feel balanced between the blade and the handle. I never quite understood what meant. What I didn’t realize is that a knife can technically be balanced but not feel balanced in your hand for a variety of reasons, size of your hand being an important one. This is why it is crucial to hold a knife and, if possible, try it out before you buy it.
A couple of weeks ago, my little family and I were in Kirkland checking out the train store (my two boys are obssesed.) As we were looking for someplace to eat, I noticed a sign for Epicurean Edge. Randy, bless him, suggested we go in. He had to have known that we were not going to walk out of there unscathed and yet he encouraged me. I started talking to the guy behind the counter and told him what knives I had and about the article I had read. It turns out, not only does he know the guy profiled in the New Yorker, but he apprenticed under him and he too is a master bladesmith. The waiting list for one of this guy’s knives is 9 years. Randy suggested I get on the waiting list and then asked how much a knife went for. An 8 inch chef’s knife, in today’s dollars, goes for $1800. It’s a good thing I have 9 years to save for it!
He went on to show me a bunch of different knives, all well under the $1800 price tag I will someday be hit with, and makes I had never heard of. What a treat to see so many different things when you see all the same brands at places like Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table. Even some of our local cookshops carry the same exact brands as the big stores. These were almost all Japanese and completely foreign to me. I mentioned that I have small hands and so the Shun knives were really hard for me to use for long periods of time, they are just too heavy. The 3 gorgeous specimens he showed me all felt perfectly balanced – and light – in my hand. It was a tough choice but I went with the one that felt the best. It is an Asai Damascus Santoku and if it asked me to marry it I would say yes.
It is beautiful, razor sharp, and does all the things you want a knife to do with ease. It slices cleanly, chops without bruising the food, and has the perfect rocking motion that allows me to actually enjoy chopping herbs – something I usually hate doing. I can cut an onion so quickly that I almost don’t even cry. And it feels so comfortable in my hand that I can use it for hours without getting tired.
If you don’t have some spare cash lying around or if you do and don’t want to spend it on knives, I would highly encourage you to sharpen the knives you do own. Every time I have cut myself it has been on an onion and it has been with a dull knife. (Except for last week when I was using a cheese slicer on a too small chunk of cheese and cut a chunk out of my thumb. Like a big enough chunk that I found it and threw it away. Last time I checked thumb is not vegetarian.) A sharp knife will grip onto the slippery surface of an onion or a tomato and a dull one will slip off and onto your finger. If you care about them, bring your knives to a cutlery store or kitchen store. I know our local grocery store will sharpen up to three knives for free, but I don’t trust them. Especially not with my new baby.