January 18, 2012

High-end cutlery carving a larger niche for itself

By MARY MacVEAN McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 1)

KITCHEN KNIVES
click image to enlarge

This 8-inch Rhino chef’s knife and paring knife were both handmade by Laurence Segal of Santa Monica, Calif.

McClatchy Newspapers

KITCHEN KNIVES
click image to enlarge

Another custom knife handmade by Segal.

Among his custom offerings is a 6.5-inch Rhino Chop. It has holes along the blade and in a butterfly-shape near the handle. The former help keep food from sticking to the blade, the latter enable the cook to get a better grip, Segal says. Segal also incorporates safety features, such as a thumb ramp that provides a surer hold.

He works by stock removal, grinding away what he doesn't want. After forming the basic profile, he drills the holes and then sends the piece for heat treatment to make it strong but not brittle. Then the blade gets the final finish work, and the handle, one of several exotic hardwoods, is attached. It takes up to 10 hours to make a knife, he says.

The majority of knives sold today have stainless steel blades, but some cooks prefer old-fashioned carbon steel knives, which can have a sharper edge but require more care. They can rust and will develop a patina familiar to anyone using grandmother's knives.

Earlier this year, Sur La Table introduced a line of carbon steel knives designed by Bob Kramer and made by Zwilling J.A. Henckels; the priciest Kramer knife at Sur La Table is an 8-inch Damascus carbon steel chef's knife that sells for $1,799. Kramer's own handmade knives have become so popular that customers must register on his website even for the chance to order.

Experts often recommend against knife sets, because each knife should be chosen to suit the owner's needs. Home cooks can get by with a chef's knife, a paring knife or two and a serrated knife for bread.

"Some people really like the feel of a certain kind of handle. How a knife feels in your hand can be very different than in my hand," Linse says. "If I am with my husband, we'll have a different experience. He might go toward a 10-inch. I have a 10-inch, but I rarely use it. I use a 6-inch. I prefer the Japanese blade.... I like the weight of the knife, how it feels in my hand."

The Global is a great knife for vegetarians, Lyon says. "A lot of it is how you respond to the tool. The same way we taste with our eyes.... It's got to give you a tingle."

So why would cooks buy a new knife if they own one that can last generations?

"With a new tool you can renew your experience with food," says Pitblado, owner of a Victorinox, two Globals, a Masahiro and a Henckels.

"I could never have enough knives," says Lyon, executive chef at Delphine at the W Hollywood Hotel.

His favorite is a wide-blade Wusthof, but he also has a knife with his name engraved that a friend brought from Japan and about 15 inexpensive paring knives. Among the less common blades, he has a 16-inch serrated knife used to cut the bone of a large fish, a one-piece solid metal Japanese cleaver and a couple of Damascus steel knives.

But it's all relative.

"Nothing like Morimoto has," he jokes about the Iron Chef.

KEEP KNIVES IN TIP-TOP SHAPE

No matter how good a knife starts out, it won't cut well or last unless it is well-maintained.

Sascha Lyon, the chef at Delphine, sharpens his knives every day, adding, "I'd never let anyone else touch them." He makes an exception for the Manhattan shop Korin. He takes some knives there when he goes to New York.

Of course, the stakes are a little higher for Lyon than for home cooks. He recalls how important sharp knives were when he worked at one of New York's top restaurants, Daniel Boulud's Restaurant Daniel.

(Continued on page 3)

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