If my knives Could Talk…. A Chefs Journey

The other day I was surfing the net I came across a beautiful Togiharu Hammered Textured  Damascus Gyutou on korin.com. This blade will have the privilege of piercing the flesh of locally raised ducks, from Guilford, rabbits from Dummerston and lamb from Putney. (just to name a few). I started to think about what my other knives experienced outside of the case. And what they witnessed. I then realized, that each knife would have a story to tell. as would I. These thoughts developed into what you are reading now, a journey of chefs’ blades. Every knife would go through its own break in period while witnessing their owners’ trials and triumphs. Some would inevitably become obsolete in a chefs arsenal, and merely act as a reminder of one’s beginnings. Some would be lost, stolen, and even abandoned. As these stories are chronicled, I would like to take you with me on my journey of knives and give you a few tips as well.

Chicago Cutlery http://www.chicagocutlery.com/ (please don’t go to this page)

*warning going to this page may seriously stunt your professional growth*

The beginning of my cooking career starts before I enrolled into culinary school at the International Arts and Sciences Institute in Chesterland Ohio. My first gig was at a run of the meal (pun) restaurant and Pie shop in Cleveland hts.  This restaurant used Chicago Cutlery Knives.  Weighing in at a whopping five pounds and this baby is equipped with a plastic handle that is sure to callous the crap out of your hands and give you a serious brachioradialis work out!  Can you say..Popeye arms?!  These knives were are and always will be absolutely horrid. I am sorry to say this but if you currently are wielding a Chicago Cutlery knife, you just are not seriously that into your craft These were “sharpened” at a grinding company weekly until there was no more blade left to grind. In fact, one of the things I look for in a kitchen is if they have a knife service. This is definitely a red flag. Of course at the time, I thought these were professional grade. I am trying to think of a suitable application for these types of knives but I just can’t! My advice, STAY AWAY! And don’t send your good knives to a grinding service, this will only destroy your edge and make it more difficult to attain a professional edge. Learn to sharpen your knives with a wet stone. It will give you a true connection with your blade and you will learn the strengths and weaknesses of each one that you own. Oh yeah, if you are ever in NYC, stop by Korin (57 Warren Street New York, NY 10007), and ask for a tutorial with the master knife sharpener, its super amazing!   Chefs; basically you need to ask yourself one question….If you were a samurai, would you be wielding a plastic handled, heavy, clunky sword?  NO!

Kyocera https://secure.kyoceraadvancedceramics.com/index.html

After “Estimating Tributary Habitat Using GIS Data Bases” with DR. Koonce of Case Western Reserve University, it became to be clear to me, that I am definitely not a lab rat. My childhood dream of being on the discovery channel was fading, and I turned towards the field that had been putting me through college, Culinary Arts.  After working in a couple of unmentionable restaurants I started to read about some great chefs, started watching the once respectable Food Network, and practicing out of cook books. This became my focus. Since I was homeschooled, it is fairly easy for me to self educate and to become informed. Now, the Food Network at that time was full of wonderful chefs, was not a popularity contest, and Sara Moulton didn’t need to use her cleavage to sell her awesome show.  (Fooey Network) This was the moment I was smitten by the Kyocera ceramic knife that Chef Ming Tsai used on his East Meets West  show.  His was black and super cool, mine is now dull and chipped along the blade thanks to my wife. How did this knife end up at home? Well, the decision was made to take one for the team and donate my knife to the household where an adequate knife presence was seriously lacking.   Within a month the tip had chipped off and my beloved knife had incurred some serious battle wounds, now resembling something closer to a serrated knife.  She still swears up and down (even in its current state) that it is the best knife ever, especially when cutting tomatoes.   We love the fact that it stays sharp for darn near forever! And when it does dull, you send it in for ten bucks. We have neglected to do this seeing as though ten bucks usually buys some cool ingredients instead.   The huge downside of this knife is that they do break and chip.  One of my Chef buddies actually shattered his.  I was so excited after entering my culinary profession, and I longed for this blade but never ponied up the coin to actually purchase it.  I was however fortunate enough to I win it in a cooking competition at the botanical gardens in Cleveland.

Wusthof http://www.wusthof.com/desktopdefault.aspx

The first knife I bought was a Wusthof. It was in the kit of other knifes used in culinary school. I was so excited and proud to walk around with my knife kit. I wanted to be the fastest chopper in class. This inspiration surely derived from my love for the PBS cooking show by Martin Yan “Yan Can Cook”.  Just as sure as Yan could cook, I could chop.  Fast.   This was definitely noticed by my instructor chef Tim, and I LOVED it.    After enthusiastically accepting an assignment of bailing out my classmates on some prep work, I proudly wielded my freshly honed German engineered beauty, right into my thumb.  This incision was a precursor to three stitches, and a story that I always tell my interns.   “If you want to gain speed in chopping it is almost inevitable that you will cut yourself.”    Call it a muscle memory exercise.   Back to the knife…This blade goes from the tip all the way to the base of the handle which gives it nice balance.  Balance is a quality which is an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY to look at when buying a professional grade blade.  This is one my heavier knives and frankly exists now solely for the purpose of reminding me where I came from.  It is a good entry-level professional blade.  There are some higher end ones that are really nice but not my cup of tea anymore…I now prefer a Japanese blade. I should also mention that all of the other knives in my cooking school kit are NEVER used. I find that I can filet a fish, tornade potatoes, and break down a bird, all with  one quality blade.

J. A. Henckels http://www.j-a-henckels.com/en-US

You may notice the absence of a knife on this cutting board.  He is the Sanktoku, by J.A. Henckles, a German-made Japanese style knife with hollow ground.  Hollow ground is a knife blade which has been ground with a beveled edge along the cutting edge of the knife.  This creates a smaller surface to make contact with the food, to help prevent the food from sticking. (Allegedly). I feel like i was duped! The food totally still stuck to this blade! (for true no potato stickage, snag the Glestain, i’ll get to that baby in a sec) At that time, EVERY young chef was all about the santoku. I wish I could find this knife. (Not for the performance obviously)  I wish I could go into 4700 Lakeside Ave. and reminisce on the days of Crust and Crumbs Bakery & Café.  This story is almost like a love story…and it hurts my heart to even think about it. Left behind in a “dream differed”…alas, the Crumb:  My first love.   My second knife.  My dream of a restaurant that was so close to re-opening then the dream dried up like a “raisin in the sun”.    If only I would have listened to those who said “Stay.”  Where would I be?  Closed to reopen in a new and bigger space that never came into fruition.  Unfortunately this knife is still stuck in the old crumb building, amongst old favorite cook books.  Our plan was to open the new Crumb and make some loot so we could go back and settle our debt with the landlord and get back all of our stuff that was comendeered.  Obviously this hasn’t happened yet, although sometimes my delusions of grandeur lead me to believe this still may happen someday.  I opened Crust and Crumbs when I was 23, after deciding to go the culinary vs lab rat route.  In my eyes, The Crumb (as it was dubbed by my regulars), will always be a success.  It was here where pivitol introductions were made.  My landlord knew Brad Friedlander who gave me sound business advice that I still use today. He also introduced me Jonathan Bennet who I worked under at Moxie the Restaurant. This is where I began to truly hone my skills and became SUPER into perfecting my craft. It is also the first time I sharpened my knives REGULARLY, and feasted my eyes on what is still not only a show stopper, but a great blade as well. Lady’s and gents, the Glestain Indented Blade…

Glestain http://korin.com/Brands/Glestain-Indented-Blade

This knife is TIGHT! The design is wonderful and the blade is a razor-sharp one that stays that way for pretty long time. It also is excellent at preventing all of your thinly sliced veggies from hanging around on your blade as I mentioned earlier… I left C Town and I was off to NY in what my family likes to call an “Izzy Whim Worlwind”.  I had no money, no apartment, no food.  Just a sweet stage gig at one of my chef heroes flagship restaurant Charlie Palmers’ Areole.   (By the way a stage position for those of you who don’t know is basically when you work for free, to gain experience and knowledge).   That’s right! This field is full of people who can afford (or have hella connections) to work unpaid in Top Michelin rated restaurants across the globe, growing in skill and buffing up their resumes. Well, I was and still am not one of those guys. (hmmm… this type of privileged network could contribute to why minorities are just a tad under represented in culinary arts…).  Anyway, I knew that this was going to be huge for my professional growth. I guess it’s not completely fair to say I had no apartment no money or food because I did have some wonderful friends who let me sleep on their floor, supportive family who sent me whatever they could scrape together, and a wife to be who would mail me packages of food and some money, a small subway map, and provided me with hours of company via the cell phone.   I remember those conversations vividly. She wired me some money because she was sick of me complaining about being hungry…(I only ate staff meal at the restaurant, unless it had pork in it, and on Sundays when I was off I wouldn’t really eat unless my awesome friends Dominique and Carol would feed me)…anyway, so she wired me some money and expected me to buy some food with it…and to her chagrin, what did I get?  This amazing knife, and some cleaner, neater looking chef jackets.  I remember eyeing it like a kid in a candy store, in that beautiful case, in a store I had no business being in because I really should have been buying groceries.  My only complaint about this knife is it is machine-made as opposed to the other hand forged Japanese varieties which I am truly fond of. This knife is a real beauty sharpens well and will always be in heavy rotation.


Misono http://korin.com/Brands/Misono_2

So, I did get offered a job at Aureole (a dream come true actually) …working under one of my hero chefs and his all-star crew…but something told me to come back home.  I had my kids at home, my wife to be and it really looked like my dream of the new Crumb was going to come true. Man! I still dream of being open in the beautiful Asian Town Center on 36th and superior. Café by day, bistro by night. Working with some of the coolest artist in the city… Anyway, I went back to Cleveland, reunited with the family, got married and got to work on the Crumb re-opening.  But in the meantime I needed cash, money, coin, dinero, loot, what ever you tag it as, I was lacking it. Just as my knives serve as a tool for memory recall, my jobs (and the Chefs that run them) are so important to the Chef that I am today. I found this job at Scott Kim’s Sasa Matsu in Shaker Square. Loved it! I was allowed to give my imput in the menu and learned so much from the most diverse bunch I have ever worked with. Korean, Chinese, Peruvian, Japanese, and your typical American mutt, working together making some yummy food. I remember busting out my knives so proud.   At this point all I REALLY knew about cutlery, is keep it sharp. How I chose a knife was solely based on how cool it looked. At that time I had a gorgeous, respectable shun blade designed by Ken Onion. http://www.kershawknives.com/

THESE KNIVES ARE FANTASTIC! (super pricey too) Its rocking abilities are perfect for slicing super thin and chopping herbs in a text-book fashion. I witnessed Scott Kim cooking with chop sticks, rolling perfect sushi rolls and dissecting fresh whole fish with an unbelievably razor-sharp knife. He didn’t have a Misono, but it was hand-made and I liked that. This is when I found my favorite, super thin, ultra light crazy sharp, rustic looking blade crafted by a company with 750 plus years of forgery. I am curious to see if my Togiharu will replace my Misono as my all-time fav. I highly doubt it. It will definitely be used the most this summer slicing through many a flora and fauna. It will temporarily soothe my addiction to have the coolest “shanks” (knife) in my collection. One thing is for sure, the knives will continue to witness the growth of a professional Chef as I continue on my journey to create super yummy food.

8 thoughts on “If my knives Could Talk…. A Chefs Journey

  1. Great post. I enjoyed learning about your “stations” in the biz through your knives.

    I’ve had a similar experience in my progression of knives. I’m a home cook and years ago started with a few Wusthof and Henckles and I never pick them up anymore. I purchased three Mac knives a few years ago and my 8″ pro is my go to knife that I use 99% of the time (and the dimples do nothing to keep veg from sticking).

    I visit my sister a few times a year for a few weeks at a time and do a lot of cooking when I’m there. Her knives were horrible. I don’t know how she didn’t injure herself trying to cut veg with knives that couldn’t cut butter. I eventually bought a few decent but cheap knives to leave at her house. On my next visit I found the knives dull and in horrible condition. She put them through the dishwasher, threw them in a drawer to clank around and was otherwise hard on them. I bought two new knives to leave at her house but now I pack them away in my box of “stuff” that I leave at her house and I get them out to use when I visit.

    As much as I love my Mac I’ve been hankering for a knew knife for a few years. You have me interested in the Glestain indented blade. I will have to see if there is someplace in Cleveland that carries them so I can feel it in my hand. If not here I will find a place in NYC next time I’m there.

    I enjoy your stories and writing style.

    • Diane, I love all of your posts in NEO. I love the fact that I get to keep up with all of the goin downs in my home town. The Glestain is nice! It is definitely going to be hevier than your Mac though. I dont think it is sold in cleveland. Sur le table and William sanoma typically focus on Shun, Wosthoff Global and Henkle. I do have a buddy that scored a mac from TJ Max and more ! How lucky is that?! Thanks for the compliments. (:

  2. This is why I told you to blog. The way you tell your story, shows the
    love, and effort, you give to your art.Its why you stay happy and humble even when your restaurant closes, you are broke, and you have to move to pilgrim country! Keep up the good work, and keep pouring your soul into your craft.God willing you will have happiness in this life and the next.

  3. I used to think that dull knives were the safest for me…I could do less damage to myself that way!!! Then my husband, Fred Griffith of television fame here in Cleveland, convinced me otherwise. That was many, many years ago.

    I taught cooking for nearly 30 years and tried to convince people that a few really good knives were the best and safest things they could use in the kitchen. It was a tough lesson to teach. But I think I finally got through to them. I have two that are my favorites. The others are really just for show. I hardly ever use them.

    This was a really nice piece.

  4. Ismail..

    What a GREAT blog. Keep it up. It shows how commited you are to your craft, and to perfecting it in your own way. Really a great read, and opens a Window into the mind of Ismail and allows those who dont really know you to see what a great guy you are, and how serious you are about food.

  5. Z. . . another good post. Usually long blog posts loses my interest quickly but your writing style keeps the reader engaged. Continue the good work work!

    Your blog brought back memories as Yan Can Cook was the show that got me hooked on food. Plus food, even though we were pursuing our college degrees, is what started our friendship. Only difference is you grabbed the bull by the horns and went after it whereas I went into Corporate America.

    Can wait to visit you in Vermont!


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