The Real Reason Fancy Restaurants Don't Provide Their Chefs With Knives

HAGS has set out to fashion itself as the queer New York restaurant that will disrupt fine dining in a variety of ways. One of these ways is to have a supply of knives for the chefs who work for the restaurant.

Telly Justice relates to Eater how people reacted when she made this policy known on her Instagram page. She had to remind them that "this seemingly innocuous, no-brainer, labor field practice has become so avant-garde in cooking that we've forgotten these are regular workers that pay rent, who have living expenses, and can't just shell out $1,000 every time they start a new job."

Judging by other informal sources, however, this might be a divide between cooking and fine dining. "Corporate jobs will often provide knives, but in independent restaurants, especially in the realm of fine dining, you bring your own knives," one Redditor explained. "Typically the kitchen workers used the knives owned by the catering company," a separate person on Quora wrote. "The chefs who worked on site brought their own."

While not the subject of an anthropological text, there does seem to be a consensus that one way a chef separates themselves from a cook is by investing a lot of money into their own knives.

Preferences became practice

It seems that the practice of having to bring one's own knife might have developed from the preferences of certain chefs. "It's a very personal expression of not only your dedication to what you are doing, but also to your own personal preferences," David Collier, a pastry chef, explained to Eater. From those preferences come marketing people. People may remember Anthony Bourdain's rant against how people fall into believing that they need different knives for every occasion (per Business Insider).

One self-professed chef-de-partie listed the reasons why these preferences become important on Quora. Company knives, for one thing, just aren't very good because they do not receive the special treatment a chef gives to their own knife. Moreover, you know how you cut and how you use your knives, and they may be a better fit for you personally. Having a knife from the company could get in the way of being efficient.

It may have been from these biases that the idea that a chef must bring their own knives developed, but as Telly Justice complained, that is an onerous burden to force. Talking about her own experience at HAGS, she noted to Eater, "I see the staff reflecting on what requires and does not require their home tools, in real time."

Sure, chefs can invest in expensive knives if they want, but the expectation that they need to pay for their own knives keeps other people out of the business.