Of all the shiny tools in your kitchen, your knife is the one that sees the most action. So why use one that's, in more ways than one, completely dull?
A spate of local knife makers are reviving the art of forging and grinding steel, creating beautiful bespoke blades and giving new meaning to the phrase "handcrafted."
"It's important to connect with your knife on every level. In order to develop that relationship, it helps to have some sort of aesthetic appreciation for the tool, so you see it and think, Wow, what a beautiful instrument—I would love to have that in my kitchen and take care of it," says Joel Bukiewicz, knife maker and owner of Cut Brooklyn in Gowanus. Indeed, his sleek pieces, made in both carbon and stainless steel on handles made of local maple and walnut woods ($350 to $650), are a handsome example of the kind of knife you'd plan a roast around just to show off.
But looks aren't the only thing that matters when it comes to buying a chef's knife. "The first thing to look for is fit and finish," says Bukiewicz. "You want to make sure there are no gaps between the handle and the blade, that the blade is straight, and the edge is even and tapers toward the top."
Bukiewicz polishing the knife
He continues, "The best thing to do is go somewhere where you can actually try some of the knives. It should feel good in your hand, and be properly balanced so you can steer it easily as you cut."
Once you've found the knife of your dreams, be kind to it, especially since you've likely just invested several hundreds of dollars in the thing. Always hand-wash and dry it. Use the right kind of cutting board—end grain wood is best, though plastic will do in a pinch (please, avoid glass). Get it tuned up at a trustworthy artisan about once a year, because you'll probably be using it all the time: What almost goes without saying is the performance of a hand-crafted knife from a reputable maker blows the mass-produced stuff out of the water.
And remember to enjoy yourself: "When you're cooking with a tool you care a great deal for, it changes the whole experience. You appreciate it in a different way," says Bukiewicz.
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Here are three more New York-area knife makers that make the cut:
Chelsea Miller of Chelsea Miller Knives: Miller uses found materials like horseshoe rasps to make eye-catching knives with one-of-a-kind textures and shapes ($200 to $450).
Moriah Cowles of Orchard Steel: A former Bukiewicz protégée, Cowles makes stunning carbon steel knives influenced by a combination of Japanese Gyuto and French Sabatier knives ($250 to $600).
Jeff Yang of Yang Bladeworks: Bukiewicz's current assistant at Cut Brooklyn, Yang makes kitchen knives along with cleavers, boning knives, steak knives and more. "His stuff has unique flair, and is very well-crafted," says Bukiewicz (email for rates).