It’s no secret that I love useful, handcrafted, well-made things that last a lifetime or more. But I also like high-tech, robotic-constructed, assembly-line equipment with a short life-cycle because the “next-best-thing” is just around the corner. And I’m not quite sure why the affinity for each should be mutually exclusive since they both serve different practical and psychological needs. For example, while I really enjoy my shaves with a double-edge razor, brush, and soap, I also recognize that under the pressures of business travel – airline security, unpredictable hotel bathroom amenities, time constraints, etc. – a modern Fusion razor and some glop is usually the way to go. And while I enjoy signing cheques with my Dad’s 1948 Parker ’51 fountain pen (nothing I’ve ever used writes smoother), it doesn’t mean that I’ll shy away from using the latest digital technologies for document management.
What is galling is how many people just don’t get it. They see movement between these two worlds as some sort of hypocrisy, or at best, a lack of integrity. It’s as if we’re anything but one-dimensional and predictable, it makes people uncomfortable….”What will he do next? Maybe he has a Japanese Santoku hidden in his pants and he’s not happy to see me”.
Which brings me to today’s topic. As if I needed yet another freaking expensive hobby! Yesterday, I wandered into a new store that sells only Japanese kitchen knives. If you had mentioned Japanese knives before, I would have immediately thought of the cheap wooden-handled stuff we see sold in Chinatown, rather than the Samurai sword. To me, a good chef’s knife is always German or possibly even French (Sabatier). I own a complete Henkel restaurant series of chef’s knives, as well as a set of obscenely overpriced Cutco (serated) from the US, which my wife favors because she hates to sharpen anything.
But I should have known better. After all, the only razor blade that I cannot use because it is too damned sharp, is made in Japan (Feather brand). And I remembered that scene in The Bodyguard where Kevin Costner lets Whitney Huston’s silk scarf drop gently out of the air onto his samurai sword, slicing it in half. That’s the kind of Japanese knives we’re talking about here. Hand made. High carbon steel. Definitely not dishwasher safe. Must be hand-sharpened on a stone. So sharp that you can’t even touch the edge to see how sharp it is because it will start slicing through your skin before you even touch it! And brutally expensive, starting at $200 and going into the thousands. Like a chicken-shit, I bought the least expensive knife I could find, the Shun Classic (pictured above) – a bread knife – which we never have enough of. But I sense a new hobby coming on and that the Henkels may well start slowly finding their way to my daughter and son’s homes.
I washed the knife, careful not to slice my hand off. Now to find a good crusty bread for breakfast. Or here’s an even better test…a nice fresh croissant – a devil to slice horizontally without crushing it into crumbs.
And now also begins the period of obsessive study of what makes a great knife. Expect more. BTW, if you have a store specializing in Japanese knives in your city, it’s well worth the visit – more like an Art gallery than a kitchen supply store.