By Melissa Gignac
On the Edge
The materials and design elements may date back to the Crusades, but
innovations in manufacturing and a swing to the East offer up a new
crop of knives that are as easy on the eyes as they are in the hand.
hen it comes to knives, many of us
spring for full-scale sets and fancy
gadgets, completely overlooking what Chef
Cosmo Meens and Cook Culture owner
Jed Grieve say is the primary tool in the
kitchen — the eight-inch chef’s knife. There
are an intimidating number of styles, sizes,
and purpose-specific knives on the market,
but Grieve typically counsels customers to
“spend more money on less knives.”
A quality chef’s knife is a tool you’ll likely
have in your hand every day for ten to 30
years, so it makes sense to invest in quality
and not be seduced by a big set of knives that
will inevitably languish, taking up valuable
counter-top real estate. Think about your
needs: if you’re a vegetarian, you don’t need
a carving knife. If you buy pre-sliced bread,
you really don’t need a bread knife. So what
should a savvy home chef look for when
selecting his or her primary tool?
East Versus West
Western knives, which most cooks
are familiar with, have been the kitchen
standard for generations. But in recent
years, the market has shifted. Henckels, the
venerable German knife maker, has moved
its loyalty to Japanese blades. “Japanese
is really where the movement has gone,”
explains Grieve who believes in Japanese
blades so much that Cook Culture no longer
stocks Western knives.
What’s the difference? Fundamentally, it’s
in how they are made. Western knives are
usually formed from a pressed blank of one
kind of material, and the blades are finished
to a 22-degree angle. Japanese knives,
Top to bottom: Miyabi Birchwood’s blade is
composed of 101 layers of steel ($280, Cook
Culture); Global Santoku features a Granton
edge which allows food to slip off the blade
($115, Cook Culture); Shun Reserve Chef Knife
combines Japanese blade design with a riveted
Western-style handle ($375, Tuscan Kitchen).
however, are mostly handmade from folded,
hammered steel, which allows for many
more layers and increased tensile strength
in the blade. They are most commonly
finished to a 15- or 16-degree angle, which
results in a finer, sharper edge. Many of the
blades are acid-etched with a Damascus
finish that, as well as being cosmetically
attractive, has the functional advantage of
decreasing stick resistance — the suction
that keeps your potato slices glued to your
knife when you slice.