This article on knives for a chef’s kit is the first in my series of articles on tools for the working chef (or the dedicated home chef). In putting together my personal kit, I invested a lot of time in researching what was the best option for each blade or tool category, based on the quality of the materials, the purchase price, and reviews from other users, especially users that are also chefs. I also have a brain crammed full of decades of commercial and home kitchen experience and personal knowledge to draw from.
1. There are three approaches to outfitting your kitchen with knives. One approach, and the approach that any street cook worth their weight in Thailand takes, is to invest a pittance in a set of Kiwi brand knives; the same company makes knives and kitchen tools under the name Kom Kom. They are made in Thailand from strip stainless steel and have riveted hardwood or plastic handles with a tang going down half of the handle. The blades are soft but you can get a razor sharp edge on them in a heartbeat, with just a few strokes from a steel. I have used them for decades, often as my go-to knives in the trenches of commercial kitchens, where knives are often "borrowed" and shamefully abused by fellow kitchen staff. They are so inexpensive that you can almost consider them disposable, but take care of them and they will last many years.
When I first started buying them back in the early 80’s you could get a 6½-inch santoku for about 4 dollars, and they are still very inexpensive today. I purchased this 4-knife set from Importfood.com for $22.50, which includes the heavier weight 7-inch santoku shaped blade (far right), the 6½-inch rectangular nagiri-shaped blade “chopping knife”, the lighter weight 6½-inch santoku-shaped blade, and the 4-inch all-purpose “Java” chopping knife (far left).
For an average of a little over 5 bucks per knife, this set cannot be beat, and it covers most work stations in a commercial kitchen. I have even filleted fish with the thinner, more flexible 6½-inch santoku blade (although you’ll do much better with a proper flexible fillet knife). Kiwi knives are available online from http://importfood.com/thai_knives.html, from http://www.amazon.com, and http://www.kiwiandkomkom.com/. They are available in Austin from MT Supermarket, in Chinatown Center, at the intersection of Kramer Ln. and N. Lamar Blvd., although the santoku models get snapped-up off the shelves quickly and it can take time for MT to get them back in stock.
Another approach is to have all of the specialty blades, developed over centuries for specific tasks, in an assortment of lengths and shapes, made from quality metal alloys, all at a much higher price than the first option. The difference in a first category knife and the French, German, or Asian-made second category knife doesn't even compare. Heft, weight, balance, workmanship, materials, and quality are all far superior with the second category. One single second category knife can cost many times what that set of four first category knives cost. However, BOTH the cheap and the more expensive knives will perform the task at hand and are functional. Some people are tool junkies while others are bottom-line pragmatists. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” definitely holds true in this case. More on that second approach next time.
Mick Vann ©