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eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Everything posted by Chad

  1. I should add that if you're not intimidated by ordering from Japan (and you shouldn't be; it's easy), JapaneseChefsKnife.com has the excellent Hiromoto Gingami #3 210mm gyuto for $112. If you don't mind the fuss of a straight carbon (non-stainless) knife, the Hiromoto Aogami Super 210mm gyuto and related knives have legions of rabid fans. The steel, also known as Blue Super, is one of the best around. You just have to be a little more attentive in your care of the knife. Chad
  2. That $100 range is the real breaking point between good and truly excellent. However, there is a good knife for every budget. You want at least an 8" chef's knife. First time buyers are sometimes intimidated by larger knives, but if your knife won't reach all the way across the pot roast dinner prep becomes a lot more difficult. Eight inches is the minimum, in my experience. For a $20-25 budget, there is the Forschner/Victorinox Fibrox-handled chef's knife. Unlike many stamped knives, this one comes with decent geometry and pretty good steel. It's a great starter knife or one to stock your beach/lake cabin so you don't have to take your expensive knives. I like them. Cook's Illustrated loves them. They're good knives. At the $50 price point, there are really only two that offer real performance, but both are excellent gateway drugs, uh, entry points into quality Japanese knives. Both the Tojiro DP gyuto and the Togiharu Molybdenum gyuto are reasonably priced. The Tojiro has an inner core of hard, high carbon steel jacketed with softer stainless. The Togiharu steel is a little softer (58Rc) but still capable of taking a more acute edge than most European-style knives. Right around $100 is where we can completely redefine the modern chef's knife. There are four knives that are readily available and better than just about any of the big name brands available today. If you're a fan of the chunkier, more upswept German style (Wusthof, Henckels, et al), the Messermeister Meridian Elite series comes with more comfortable handles, significantly better edges, and partial bolsters for ease of sharpening. Very nice knives. In between the Germans and the Japanese are the Shuns. They have a more pronounced "belly" to the blade, like the Germans, but are thinner, harder and use better steel, like the Japanese. The Shun Classic 8" chef's knife can be found for about $120. On the western-style Japanese side of the equation, with a flatter, more triangular profile very much like a traditional French chef's knife, are the Mac MTH80 8" Granton edge chef's knife and the Global G2 8" cook's knife. The Global handles are a love 'em or hate 'em affair, but if they fit your hands they're a lot of fun to use. Mac knives can be hard to find in brick 'n' mortar stores, but are worth seeking out online for reasons detailed in a previous response. I like them a lot. The Mac is the knife I almost always recommend when someone says they want to get into good knives but don't want to break the bank. These are all 8" knives. There are usually 240mm (9.4") and 270mm (10.6") versions of the Japanese knives and 10" versions of the Euro-styled knives available for a few dollars more. I've gravitated to 240mm and 270mm as the standards in my kitchen. You really can't go wrong with any of the knives listed here, so whatever your budget there is a high quality chef's knife out there for you. Take care, Chad
  3. Hi, Janet. Sorry I missed your question the other day. Traditional Japanese single-beveled knives can be remarkable cutting tools. They tend to be very specialized, though, and not particularly well suited to western style cooking. If you cut a lot of sushi or break down whole fish, they're spectacular. Otherwise, their idiosyncracies make them less suited to life in a western kitchen. For example, the yanagiba (sushi knife) is designed to cut fish in a very specific way. If you don't cut that way, the difference between the beveled and unbeveled sides will cause the knife to twist in the cut, making it difficult to cut straight. If you want to experiment, however, and can buy a quality knife for a reasonable price, go for it. They're a lot of fun. And fairly easy to maintain. Two gyutos, one with a wa handle, one with a standard western handle If you like the Japanese style handle but are more adapted to western style blades, a wa-gyuto would be a good choice. The gyuto is the Japanese version of a French chef's knife. They're thinner, lighter, harder and sharper than the Euro-centric knives most of us are used to. They come with western handles. The wa-gyuto comes with a traditional Japanese oval or octagon handle (wa meaning Japanese). Good examples include the Suisin Inox wa-gyuto and the Hattori KF 270mm wa-gyuto. As for the Shun Elites -- yeah, go for it! It's great steel. The handles are a little chunky for my taste, but I'm so spoiled at this point that I'm probably not the best judge. Definitely make sure they fit your hands and that you have sufficient knuckle clearance on a cutting board. If they feel good to you, and you can get one for a good price, I'd say you'd be hard pressed to go wrong. I'm eager to hear what you end up with. Chad
  4. Hi, Kerry. I suspect you're right about birthin' a baby. Up to and including the postpartum depression, where I didn't do anything really useful for a couple of months after turning the manuscript in. After doing the eGCI Knife Maintenance and Sharpening clinic and a couple of other knife related articles (The Way of the Knife was chosen for "Best Food Writing 2004," for example) I thought there might be a related book in there somewhere. I was lackadaisically working on a book proposal when I got an email from my (now) agent, Helena Schwarz asking if I wanted to do a knife book. Twelve iterations of the proposal later, we had something she felt comfortable shopping around. On February 14, 2006, Harriet Bell, then head of HarperCollins's Morrow division made a preemptive offer on the book. Steven King once said that if you take more than a year to write a book you're just dicking around. He's right. It took me a year and half to write the book. There was a lot of dicking around involved. The manuscript was supposed to be delivered by February 2007, but wasn't turned in until June of 2007. We decided that me writing a book wasn't stressful enough, so just to make things more fun we threw in a major career upheaval for my wife and a cross country move. Parts of the book were written when it was just me in a completely empty house with a mopey yellow Labrador Retriever, sleeping in a sleeping bag because my wife, kids and all of our furniture were in North Carolina. Most of the delay, though, was my own damn fault. I overindulged my tendency toward compulsive research, meaning that when I sat down to write I had so much material that I was paralyzed. Oh yeah, a week before the intensive photo shoot for the color section of the book, I had a bad accident with a broken wine glass. Would you take knife advice from a guy with stitches in his hands? That was another delay. I'm a freelance writer anyway, so I didn't have to work around a regular day job. After a lot of napkin math and soul searching, my wife and I decided that I could stop taking other projects and just concentrate on the book. That helped a lot. She gets major karma points for essentially carrying the family for a while. I spent my days researching, taking notes and filling in the outline and structure that I used to guide my thinking. The next one will go much more smoothly now that I have a more realistic picture of what it takes. Unless, of course, your baby analogy holds true and one forgets what kind of hell it really was. The editing process was surprisingly easy. It helps that I've been a writer for a very long time. Not only do I have pretty thick skin, I've learned to craft my work so that it doesn't require a lot of editing. Gail Winston, the editor who took on my book after Harriet Bell left HarperCollins, was pretty easy going. She gave me some general direction, noted a couple of places where I let the humor go overboard and largely left the manuscript alone, trusting her instincts and my voice. I did have one temper tantrum early in the process when I'd sent her a couple of chapters that weren't quite ready for prime time. She didn't think they were nearly as humorous and informative as I did. I was mainly mad because she was right. I also helps that I asked for (demanded) Suzanne Fass as a copy editor. Suzanne is a marvel. Once the manuscript is accepted by the publisher and entered into their proprietary typesetting/publishing system (which takes weeks, by the way), the copy editor's job is to go through everything line by line, comma by comma, to make sure that it is grammatically correct, factually correct, that the photos actually illustrate what they purport to, and generally make the author's life a living hell of fact checking and persnickety 9th grade syntax. Thank God. The copy editor is the person who makes sure that if you've referred to shiro-ko in one section, that it isn't shiroko (no hyphen) a hundred pages later. How she kept track of all that stuff I'll never know, but she did and the book is much better for it. It helps considerably that Suzanne is a former chef, so she was able to check recipes for anything weird, make sure the photos showed good technique, et al. I have since recommended her to other authors working on cookbooks or food related books. That experience is invaluable. There are a lot of things I would change, mostly because of screwups or misunderstandings on my part. I can only hope that I get the chance to make new and innovative mistakes for the next one. Chad
  5. From the HarperCollins publicity dept. I'm much too modest to post this stuff myself. Very tired. I've just come in from driving 500 miles over the last two days to tape two segments on a small regional cooking show. Not as smooth as I would have liked, but there was no major blood loss, so I count it as a win. I also got to have dinner with my parents at Devereaux's, which was just spectacular. Chad
  6. Actually I make a distinction between stamped knives and machined knives. Stamped knives, like the cheap Mundials, Dexter Russells and even the very fine Forschner/Victorinox knives available at restaurant supplies, are indeed punched, cookie cutter-like, out of sheets of steel, given a simple edge and put on the shelf. Modern knives like the Macs, Shuns, Misonos, et al, are machined. They are precision ground from billets of high quality steel, a process that custom knife makers call "stock removal." You also have to remember that Euro-style knives like Henckels and Wusthofs aren't forged in the way we commonly think of forging. There is no burly Teutonic artisan lovingly whacking a glowing bar of iron into your chef's knife. It's a single bonk from a 20 ton drop forge or a slow squeeze in an electric compression forge, neither of which imparts all of the qualities usually associated with hand forging. The "forged versus stamped" argument is out the window with high quality knives these days. Hmmm, I do use "screaming edge" a lot, don't I. I'll have to watch out for that. Take care, Chad
  7. Dave, thanks for such a thoughtful review and critique. Project, thanks for your insights as well. I'm out of town for the evening. I'm taping a regional cooking show in the morning and my Internet connection is a little sporadic. I'll be back with more detailed responses tomorrow evening. Take care, Chad
  8. If she liked your Blazen, it would certainly be sturdy enough for her purposes. If she's after sturdy but likes the German style knives for their heft and chunkiness, the Messermeister Meridian Elites are hard to beat. Similar (if not identical) steel to Wusthofs but with more comfortable handles, partial bolsters for ease of sharpening and some of the best factory edges I've seen. I spent a long afternoon peering through a high powered microscope at a wide variety of factory edges. The Messermeisters won, hands down. A good 10" Messermeister Meridian Elite would be an excellent choice. Chad
  9. There are some foods that are tougher on edges than others. Lemongrass, for example can be hard on a knife. Scallions may be a special case. In that discussion, Scallions and Sharpness, chef Brandon Wick (Cascadia in Seattle) and chef Chad Gibson (Resort at Paws Up, MT) pointed out that scallions, like leeks, can absorb a lot of fine sand, which can be brutal on an knife's edge. Those guys have a lot more time behind a cutting board than I do, so I'm willing to take their word for it. For home cooks, even enthusiastic ones, I suspect that we don't cut anything in sufficient volume to notice much of a difference in how it affects an edge. Chad
  10. Hi, Kristin. Yup, MACs are still easier to purchase online than they are in a brick'n'mortar retailer, but that hasn't stopped droves of line cooks buying them because they are sturdy, lightweight, nice and sharp right out of the box, and can take heaps of abuse. MAC knives, especially the Professional series, are some of the best bang-for-your-buck kitchen knives available today. The fact is that I've owned just about every chef's knife available. When my mom revealed that she didn't have a decent knife to cook with, the MAC MTH-80 is the one I bought her. In fact, I bought two. I know she is never going to learn to sharpen her knives, so I have a spare that I keep in top condition. Whenever I go to visit I take it and swap it for the one she's been using. I bring the sorely abused one home, clean and sharpen it, and keep it in my kit for the next time I visit. In fact, I was sharpening the spare MAC today in preparation for driving down to my parents house tomorrow. Chad
  11. I wanted to respond to these points separately. I'm glad you are enjoying my book. I'm equally (well, mostly equally) glad that you purchased the others. Peter Hertzmann, author of Knife Skills Illustrated is, or was, an eGullet member. He produced a very good book. Norman Weinstein, author of Mastering Knife Skills, is by all accounts an exceptional instructor and a nice guy, too. I have his book and enjoyed it very much. The folks at HarperCollins will probably kill me for saying this, but the fact is if you are looking for an in-depth, straight knife skills book, his is probably a better choice than mine. He covers more techniques in greater depth than I do. I have a stronger knife knowledge, purchasing and sharpening sections. I'm surprised that none of the food media has picked up on the fact that after years of nothing on the topic aside from the CIA's textbook, there are now four knife skills books out from major publishers. That is simply amazing. It tells me that Food Network, with all its dumbing down, has it completely wrong. There is a huge audience out there for more advanced skills in the kitchen. Maybe it's just that all of those people who bought trophy kitchens in the 90s have figured out that it is no longer sufficiently cool just to own them, you are expected to know how to use them as well, but something is going on. Chad
  12. Hi, Chris. It's hard to say. As far as I'm aware there are only two people making true Damascus kitchen knives -- Bob Kramer and Murray Carter. Both are ABS certified Master Smiths, and both produce some of the most astounding kitchen cutlery on the planet. A Damascus knife from either one will cost you well upwards of a thousand dollars. Closer to two thousand for a knife of any length. I've handled Damascus knives from each. They are the absolute pinnacle of custom kitchen knife-making today. When I say true Damascus, I mean layers of steel, heated and folded repeatedly to make thousands of layers of intertwined steel. Those layers make up the entire knife blade. I'm making a distinction because there is a lot of, well, faux Damascus out there today, from the beautiful Shun Classics found in any Williams Sonoma to Shinichi Watanabe's hand forged Kintaro-ame chef's knives. The difference is that what I'm calling faux-Damascus is actually a core of homogeneous steel wrapped in a Damascus jacket. The cutting edge is a solid center of (usually) high carbon steel. It isn't affected by the interaction between the different steels that surround it. The Damascus cladding is primarily decorative. This is true even of the $1200 Hattori KD gyuto. In a true Damascus knife, the layers make up the whole of the knife blade. There is usually a lower carbon steel in the mix because the way the two (or more) different steels etch makes for the eye-pleasing pattern. The combination of high and low carbon steels will probably make for a difference in performance and feel when cutting, but I don't have enough time behind the wheel with that type of knife to have an informed opinion. They are pretty, though. As for the more common Damascus-clad knives, sometimes called suminigashi or “ink pattern” because the style resembles an ancient Japanese paper decorating technique of the same name where drops of ink were carefully dripped into still water and blown into swirls, most are pretty darn good. There are the Shuns, of course, but also the excellent Hattori HD series, among others. They tend to have a core of VG-10, which is an excellent kitchen steel. If you like the look, it's hard to go wrong with this type of knife. Take care, Chad
  13. Hi, Anna. You're right. That is a great knife skills recipe. Looks tasty, too. Okay, you're absolved. Little did you know, but your knives will be sharper simply for having bought the book. It has a mystical proximity effect on edges. Not something we generally tell the public, but we're among friends here, right? So just lay your knives on the open book and they'll get sharper If that doesn't work as well as you might like, I would definitely try Dave Martell at D&R Sharpening Solutions. He does mail order sharpening and is one of the best in the business. Use your electric sharpener sparingly. If it's a Chef's Choice model 120 with the strop as the final stage, use that the way you'd use a steel. Run your knife through the strop stage only. Do that every once in a while and your edges will last a good long time. Definitely give Dave a try though. You'll be amazed at what he can do to revive a tired edge. Thanks again for the kind words. Take care Chad
  14. Thanks! When I tell people I wrote a book about kitchen knives I get one of two responses -- "Wow, I that's a book I could really use," and "Oh..., um, is there a market for that?" As for the research, unfortunately I didn't get to go anywhere really interesting. I spent time in commercial kitchens. I did a lot of phone interviews (Sara Moulton is a real sweetheart). I read a lot. The looks you get while perusing The Fundamentals of Physical Metallurgy at a volleyball tournament, for example, are almost worth the struggle of reading it. Unlike a recent acquaintance who is on an assignment from the New Yorker where they pay for him to follow the story wherever it might lead (Japan, most recently), my production costs, including research, came out of the first portion of the advance. So, alas, no travels to far flung lands to study the knife making processes of primitive peoples. No visits to Solingen, Theirs or Sheffield, even though they have excellent cutlery museums. I did, however, get to buy a lot of really great knives. At one point I had more than 50 chef's knives. I've since worked that down to a much more manageable number, but I kept the best of the best. That's pretty cool. Chad
  15. <quietly slips Mitch a $20>
  16. Boy, was I happy to get to this part of the paragraph Interesting question. Yes, ubersteel will migrate downward from custom knives and exotics into more commonly available kitchen knives, I believe. The process has already started with Shun's use of VG10 and Chef's Choice's use of what is most likely 154CM or something similar. Now Shun is using an exotic powder steel, SG2, in its Shun Elite line and the new Bob Kramer collaboration. Dunno about ceramic. It has some nice advantages but it's too brittle. People don't want to see a $100 investment shatter if they drop it on the countertop. I think the Japanese trend, started by Global in the 80s, will continue. Kitchen knives will be thinner, lighter, harder and sharper than ever before. If the Wusthofs and Henckels of the world don't adapt they'll find themselves on the downside of the cycle and on the way out before they know it. It happened before with the French, and before them the English. They are adapting by introducing new knives more in the Japanese style, but whether it will be enough is hard to say. The US has the opportunity to be the next big player but I don't see any manufacturers stepping up. One of the most frustrating questions I have to answer -- and I get it frequently -- is "What's a good US-made kitchen knife?" And I'm forced to report that there aren't any. Yes, Dexter Russell and Lamson make kitchen knives, they're just not very good. That gap will soon be filled by China. Many manufacturers are already producing knives in China. If the trends hold true, their quality will continue to improve, they'll over come the "cheap import" stigma, and they'll probably become a dominant supplier of quality kitchen knives. Most people don't realize it, but not so very long ago knives from Solingen were considered low-quality imports. You only bought one if you couldn't afford the high class cutlery from Sheffield, England. That's the way the cycle works. Sorry to be so long winded. It's a great topic. In short, there has never been a better time to buy a good chef's knife. And the quality just keeps improving.
  17. Congratulations! Scary, yes, but extremely rewarding as well. I'm eager to follow along as all of this progresses. Best of luck. Chad
  18. I have a Wave in-drawer knife tray in one of my drawers. On occasion the tray will slide forward (toward the back of the drawer) so the knife handles are no longer at the very front of the drawer. When that happens they tend to catch on the lip of the drawer, keeping it from opening. I suspect that something similar is happening here. Relax. This is fairly easy to remedy. Only the upper portion of the knife handles generally comes into contact with the lip of the drawer slot. It doesn't take much to tilt the handle back downward. The trick is to close the drawer as much as possible, leaving only a narrow slot in which to hook a pinky (my standard method) or a ruler. Opening the drawer only narrows the area in which you have to work. I use a flexible metal ruler that works wonders. Simply slide it into the gap and guide it along the tops of the knife handles. All you need to do is tilt them downward slightly. It is usually only one or two handles that are the problem. You rarely have to depress all of them. Find the offending handle, press it down slightly, and gently open the drawer. In the future a little Fun-Takwill keep the tray from sliding forward enough for the handles to catch. Hope this helps, Chad
  19. That gap is called the Machi and is perfectly normal on that style of knife. There is a diagram on Shinichi Watanabe's site. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click on The picture for measure. Take care, Chad
  20. Woohoo! An Edge in the Kitchen broke the Top 100 in Amazon's Cooking, Food & Wine bestsellers. No doubt fueled by a very kind mention on Michael Ruhlman's blog. I should have taken the screen shot earlier. I was #88 first thing this morning. This is too cool. Chad
  21. I suspect that "Under Pressure" has a much more interesting and recognizable ring to it than the more accurate "Under Vacuum." Either way, I pre-ordered it the day it showed up on Amazon. I didn't know Michael Ruhlman and Harold McGee were also involved. That makes it all the better. Chad
  22. "You like me! You really, really like me!" Thanks folks, I appreciate the kindness and early reviews. By the way, how's the color in the center section? I have a case of books that were some of the first off the presses. The colors are super saturated. The peeled tomato in the concassé section looks like it was just pulled, beating, from someone's chest. Chad
  23. Book day! It's actually on the shelves. I stopped by the local Borders just to check and there it was right next to Larousse Gastronomique. That's cool. They've shelved it in "Professional Cooking." Chad
  24. That is seriously messed up in a "when avant garde filmmakers are down on their luck" sort of way. Yow.
  25. Congratulations, Chad, I'm looking forward to the book! I've got a whole bunch of knife books now and I keep telling myself that one of these days I'm going to actually read one of them and get to practicing... I even bought a giant bag of onions a month ago, but I never got around to it. I'm hoping your new book can give me a kick in the butt and kickstart my lousy knife skills, so I'm glad the reviewers liked it. Now if I can just get up the motivation to get off my couch... ← Thanks, Chris! One of the problems with the knife skills books out there is that they assume you will practice your skills -- knife skills are just like typing, the more you do it the better you get -- but don't tell you what to do with the 5lbs of carrots or bag of onions you just cut up. That's why I included Knife Skills Workouts, recipes that include nearly all of the techniques in the book. You get some practice and put dinner on the table. I'm amazed that no on has done it before. Chad
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