For people who care about their food

Passionate About Knives

My culinary infidelity with a Japanese chef

Japanese chef knife by Cooks & CoAfter many years of domestic bliss, I’ve been seduced by a good-looking bit of rough. I’m in love with a Johnny come lately. The object of my desires feels great too but I’m a little bit guilty about it. Here’s what happened.

I first spotted the Japanese Chef in Allders. There it was hanging up beside all the other Cooks & Co knives, its gleaming broad eight-inch blade inviting me to take a closer look. Who could resist?

I already have a good set of Sabatier knives – expensive, dependable, and perhaps rather dull. I’ve been tempted before to have the odd dalliance. My filleting knife, for example, would make Rambo look good, with its flexible retractable blade. The attraction paled a little after I almost lost a couple of fingers, but I’ve learned a bit more respect now and we get along fine. The trust has been lost forever though. And so, Sabatier has never really had any serious rivals for my affections. Until now.

Let me tell you more about the Japanese Chef. It may have an exotic name, but this is not your ultra-sophisticated, genuinely Japanese, Global knife. (You’d think that since you’re not paying for anything in the middle, them being hollow, that they might not be so frighteningly expensive.) No, the Japanese Chef, comparatively speaking, is built like a brickie’s labourer. This is a very heavy knife. The Sabatier eight-inch chef’s knife weighs 175g; the Japanese Chef is almost 100g heavier.

Holding it in the shop, waving it about, getting a good feel for it, I could see the shop staff looking nervously over. The Chef’s glory was still sheathed in its protective cardboard casing and I longed to rip it off and run my thumb against the sharp edge. I didn’t dare to.

I thought of my already large collection of knives at home and told myself there was no way I could justify the expense of yet another. Such a beast would be too expensive. Much too expensive. It was a beauty.

Glad to have solved the problem, I investigated further, looking for the price tag. £20!!! Surely it couldn’t be any good at that price. But it was too late. I couldn’t help myself. I bought it. And barely noticed the shop staff clutching each other in relief as I gleefully danced out of Allders.

I couldn’t wait to unsheath it, but thought the other passengers might not like it if I started fondling such a glorious chopper on the bus. I controlled myself until I got home. The rest, as they say, is history.

I have committed culinary infidelity. The Sabatiers hang on the knife rack untouched while I favour the Japanese Chef. It cuts through the crunchiest carrots like the proverbial hot blade through congealed bovine mammary secretion (sorry, didn’t want to use a cliché and I couldn’t think of another word for “butter”).

So what’s so great about it? Well, a Japanese chef’s knife is a different shape from the traditional western cook’s or chef’s knife. Think aeroplane wing shaped rather than the long thin triangular shape used in the western world. It’s a heavier duty instrument for chopping. I believe the extra weight, coupled with good sharpness, gives it more power. The Japanese Chef also looks good with a shiny chrome tip on its handle. Even if it was never used, it could be an attractive ornament on any kitchen knife rack.

But the real beauty of it is how it cuts, and how it feels when it cuts. Even Mr Not Delia had a go with it and said that it was so smooth you’d almost think it had liquid inside it. When in full flow of the rocking action used in cutting, I found it to be poetry in motion. (Only amateurs make that woodpeckerish rat-a-tat racket when they cut.)

Oh wow, this is the best knife I’ve found in years and all for £20 too. I feel guilty for neglecting my old friends the Sabatiers, but the Japanese Chef is eight inches of pure pleasure. Buy one today!

By the way – I originally wrote this more than seven years ago and still use that knife almost every day. I have to sharpen it sometimes (I use a whetstone, but you could also use a steel). This takes a couple of minutes and it’s as good as new again. Buying this knife was probably the best £20 I’ve ever spent.

Most people who care about cooking are passionate about their knives. Care to comment?

3 Responses to “Passionate About Knives”

  1. Mike K-H

    Knives are worth hunting for. My current favourite is a no-label Sabatier-style one bought in a French hypermarket at an unrealistically low price. If you look very carefully with the light glancing across the blade, you can just make out the word ‘Thiers’ which is where the blade stock for a lot of French knives (Sabatier, Laguiole,…) comes from.

    I used to do a lot of my cooking with a cheap US high carbon steel (not stainless, but it just went a bit dark, not rusty) knife that was a knock-off of the Green River outdoorsman’s knife. That took and held a beautiful edge.

  2. Not Delia

    Yes, a knife doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. I have loads of knives, probably more than I really need, but I definitely have my favourites. Another favourite is one from a boxed set I bought, again a cheapo.

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