When it comes to chef’s equipment, there’s nothing more essential than the knife: a kitchen that comes with a slim, 20cm long triangular blade with a curved cutting edge and with a heel tall enough to chop any type of vegetable. From Japan to the U.S. each place has mastered its own craftsmanship standards but there's no such thing as a “best knife” that fits everyone.
The size of one’s hands or the use within the kitchen, determine what weight or handle type is preferable. What sets a great knife apart from a mediocre is for how long it will serve its purpose and in the last decades, artisan knife makers have been popping up with great frequency. Owning a well-performing chef’s knife has evolved into a fashion, as more and more people have started being interested in mastering the art of cooking.
In an article recently published on the New Yorker, A. G. Russell, one of the most respected blacksmiths and knife experts in the US, said: “When I first got into this business, in 1964, I had a hard time finding fifteen knifemakers from Alaska to Florida. I’ve got three thousand in my computer file now.” According to Russel, the interest has increased partly due to the Internet, which has made once hard to find items accessible and has spread to the next generation the knowledge about how those items are crafted.
So, what are the secrets of this craft and what are the best knives for an amateur chef to own? We’ve dug through the internet, our own kitchen and talked to the experts, in order to compose a comprehensive compilation of the elements that will help you understand and choose the perfect blade for any occasion.
UNDERSTANDING THE PERFECT BLADE
Cutlery experts use the phrase “edge geometry” to describe the shape of the steel behind a knife’s blade. It’s the geometry that defines the real “sharpness”, the utilitarian purpose: any acceptable knife can be made sharp at the edge but the control that one has over a chef’s knife depends on the shape and thickness of the blade.
The Rockwell scale
A hardness scale - the Rockwell scale, is used to describe the resistance of steel from zero to seventy. Most western knives are forged with relatively soft steels whose hardness moves around fifty. This choice makes knives more elastic: they need to be sharpened more often but at the same time, resist being used roughly without breaking. The lifespan of a blade depends on the steel’s quality and on how good care you take of your knife: using honing steel is a good way for prolonging the life of a sharpened edge by realigning it. When using a sharpener instead, you whittle away a thin layer of the metal.
Europe vs Japan
The above mentioned hardness, is the first detail that sets Japanese and European style knives apart. Both East and West have mastered the art of knife making across the centuries, however, the blades used in Japanese cooking (mainly for cutting fish) definitely suffer when used according to the less delicate, western cooking techniques where more “chunky” knives can do a better job.
SOME OF OUR FAVORITE KNIVES AND KNIFE MAKERS OUT THERE
The Italian classic
Beautifully designed and carefully crafted with noble materials since 1895, Coltellerie Berti’s hand forged Chefs knives go far beyond the practical kitchen use to become collectable classics that every chef would love to own. Serious aesthetes won’t complain about the price!
The celebrity forger
Starting to make knives in 1937 at the age of 12, Bill Moran was a knifemaker who reintroduced the process of making pattern welded steel into modern knife making. Moran's knives are considered “Art Knives” and they are sought after by famous customers such as Sylvester Stallone and Queen Elizabeth II. Now collectables, those knives are not exactly made for the kitchen but still, they’re objects of desire for cooks too!
The Japanese Must
Using its own proprietary stainless steel which it calls Cromova 18, Global’s Japan-made G-2 is one of the most popular chef's knives in the world. Its makers ensure perfect balance with a unique design!
On a budget
Retailing under 50 euros, Zwilling J.A. Henkel’s Classic Chef’s knife is all that a beginner can dream of: simple design, a bold hold and a solid blade which by the way comes with lifetime warranty by the manufacturer!
France vs Japan
A Thomas Keller favorite, Mac’s 8’’ French Chef’s knive comes with a blade that’s easy to sharpen at home and has a better edge retention than most professional knives out there!
The fancy Brooklynite
Cool, Brooklyn-made and handcrafted by Joel Bukiewicz, these knives come with hand carved wood from the New York area and a lifetime guarantee.
Practical and Innovative
Kyocera’s razor sharp ceramic blade knives promise a sharpness that will last for a long time, minimizing the browning of easily oxidizable foods. Plus, they’re heavenly light!