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Japanese Knives Give the Culinary Competition an Education

Move over Messermeister! Sail away, Viking! Culinary experts whose joints have grown stiff chopping with hand-forged Wusthof-Tridents are training their sights on Eastern kitchens. In ever-greater numbers, chefs both professional and amateur are trading their blades of steel for the latest trend in culinary arts cutlery: Japanese blades. West Coast cutlery suppliers Michael Solaegui and Tara Solaegui-Ransfer saw their sales of Japanese knives triple in the last four years.

Seven Inches of Culinary Art

Solaegui sees the Japanese knife as "performance-driven," in contrast to its durable European relatives. The santoku, a seven-inch multipurpose chef's knife is a top seller. Chefs, regardless of their culinary educational level, admire the santoku's thinner, straighter, more blunt-tipped design. Still, most kniferati attribute the boom in Japanese culinary arts cutlery to Rachel Ray's use of the Wusthof santoku on her show, "30-Minute Meals."

A Japanese Culinary Education Emphasizes Form with Function

For executive chef Brian Mattingly, "knives are very personal. He admires the light weight, sharpness, and feel of his Globals, because, "They conform to me, and I enjoy them." Culinary arts educator John Ash also admires Global. "I think it's just a cool shape," Ash says.

Japanese Ceramic Cutlery: Culinary Art with a Side of Surprise

Kyocera, a leading manufacturer of ceramic cutlery, reveals that its knives are made of "zirconia," zirconium oxide powder fired at high temperatures. The resulting knife is a culinary education in setting aside preconceptions. A Kyocera is half the weight of a steel knife of the same size, yet it's sharper than its metal twin and keeps its edge ten times longer!

How passionate are culinary artists for their Japanese knives? San Francisco chef Laurent Gras owns the "Ferrari" of Japanese knives, a limited edition Keyaki valued at $5,000. Three other knives--a Masamoto, a Nenohi, and an Aritsugu--cha-ching at a sharp $1,500 each. However, you can join the Japanese cutlery club for as little as $30 if you shop wisely.

Sources
  • "Ferraris of the knife world," by Olivia Wu. San Francisco (CA) Chronicle (Jun 2, 2004).
  • "KITCHEN GEAR: Ceramic knives cut into market." USA Today (Apr 29, 2005).
  • "Light, versatile blades gain popularity," by Aleta Watson. San Jose (CA) Mercury News (Apr 19, 2005).