In these times of open-kitchen tasting-menu restaurants and nose-to-tail butchery classes, the knife has become a fetishized object—not just among culinary-school grads but on the countertops of everyday New Yorkers. Amassing the ideal cutlery collection is a high-stakes prospect, fraught with questions about single versus double bevels and whether to use a cleaver or a meat saw to carve a whole hog. And in New York, in addition to the classic knife temples like Korin—where a single hand-cut, hand-polished piece can take two weeks to produce—there’s now a whole new crop of highly skilled Brooklyn knife-forgers to consider. To help you make the right investments, we created a compendium of expert knife picks, from April Bloomfield’s go-to oyster shucker to Noah Bernamoff’s bread knife turned smoked-meat slicer.
Where to Find Them
Broadway Panhandler 65 E. 8th St., nr. Mercer St.; 212-966-3434
The Village favorite offers a good range of inexpensive to high-end knives.
The Brooklyn Kitchen 100 Frost St., nr. Leonard St., Williamsburg; 718-389-2982
Kings County’s best stop for an initial knife-outfitting, plus knife-skills classes.
Crate & Barrel 650 Madison Ave., at 59th St.; 212-308-0011
Decorative, everyday cutlery.
Ikea 1 Beard St., nr. Columbia St., Red Hook; 888-888-4532
Not a bad low-budget option—especially the Slitbar chef’s knife.
JB Prince 36 E. 31st St., nr. Park Ave. S., 11th fl.; 212-683-3553
A warehouse for cooks and hangers-on.
Korin 57 Warren St., nr. W. Broadway; 212-587-7021
Wonderland for Japanese-knife fetishists.
MTC Kitchen 711 Third Ave., at 45th St. (enter on 45th); 212-661-3333
A calmer alternative to Korin, selling Japanese knives and other kitchenwares.
Sur La Table 75 Spring St., at Crosby St.; 212-966-3375
The shop’s knife area is comprehensive, with friendly, hands-on service.
Williams-Sonoma 110 Seventh Ave., nr. 17th St.; 212-633-2203
Higher-end German and Japanese knives and flatware.
Knife Care Two Ways
Sabitoru or soap? Experts weigh in on different approaches to blade maintenance.
Knife people can be paranoid about using any sort of product on their precious collection. But some blades, like stain-prone high-carbon ones, demand special care, says Jonathan Benno of Lincoln Ristorante. You can remove rust and other spots with a sabitoru (or “eraser”) from Korin ($8); Benno also recommends periodically treating high-carbon knives with tsubaki oil ($11 for 3.8 ounces; korin.com) to prevent corrosion.
Soap and water:
Harry Rosenblum of the Brooklyn Kitchen is in the purist camp when it comes to washing all his knives for fear of damaging the blades—just soap and water, and with his high-carbon knives, just water. As long as you’re sure to dry them completely (water will help breed bacteria), “you can safely wash them without soap,” Rosenblum insists. “Mankind would have become extinct a long time ago if that weren’t true.”
A magnetic strip:
Easy access to your knives is key, especially for someone like Tom Mylan, co-owner of the Meat Hook. But even if you’re not butchering three pigs a day, Mylan recommends an out-in-the-open magnetic knife strip. An added bonus is the space you’ll save: “Most people don’t have enough countertop to take it up with a block.” A basic strip like Ikea’s Grundtal ($15), installed with a power drill, has all the magnetic strength you need.
If you’ve got the counter space, knife blocks are safer than magnetic strips around pets, children, and clumsy adults, and, of course, they can be beautiful design objects. Food52’s Christina DiLaura says that OnOurTable’s walnut block ($180 at food52.com/provisions) “is the most beautiful wood I’ve ever felt. When you touch it, it’s like butter.”
A high-quality sharpening stone from a shop like Korin will cost about $50 to $80, and doing it yourself involves running the blade across the surface, top to bottom, in several segments. The process, which is a bit of an art form, requires caution: “Every stroke I’m concentrating; I’m aware I can be cut,” says chef John Daley of New York Sushi Ko. But it’s this meditative quality of the ritual, he notes, that makes you “truly connected” with your knife.
With a pro:
That said, taking your knife to a professional doesn’t make you a deadbeat knife-owner. “If you’re sawing instead of slicing” through an onion, and honing it on a steel won’t help, says cutler Christopher Harth, that’s the time to bring it in. Harth, who’s based in both the Gowanus Whole Foods and his Clinton Hill studio, will inspect your blades with a magnifier, then work with you to custom-sharpen to an angle suited to your purposes.
*This article appears in the June 2, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.
Carving a Goat: Nenox G-Type Sujihiki Slicer
Used by: Francis Derby, executive chef, the Cannibal
Buy at: Korin, from $265
“This is the most versatile knife there is,” Derby says of his beloved Nenox. The double-bevel style (meaning it has an angled edge on either side) is long and thin enough to slice a full goat or pig cleanly, but just thick enough for more mundane tasks like onion-chopping.
Boning a Duck: Masahiro Sakabone
Used by: Bryce Shuman, executive chef, Betony
Buy at: Sointu, $97; sointuusa.com
Before opening Betony, Shuman worked as a sous-chef at Eleven Madison Park, where this sakabone was his savior: It allowed precision for tasks like trussing a duck, while still offering a sturdy blade. “It’s super-durable and maintains its edge after tearing through tough flesh and bone,” he says.
Butchering a Hog: Mound Tool Hand Saw
Used by: Tom Mylan, owner, the Meat Hook
Buy at: Mound Tool, $41; moundtool.com
Mylan doesn’t recommend a cleaver for novices (“They are extremely dangerous”). Instead, home butchers looking to take apart whole hogs should try this saw. Rather than throwing your arm down, as with a cleaver, you grip the handle horizontally and make a simple back-and-forth motion.
Serving Steak: Laguiole en Aubrac Steak Knife
Used by: Michael White, chef, Costata
Buy at: Williams-Sonoma, from $300 for a set of four
Sticklers for aesthetics, White and his Soho staff chose this non-serrated offering from the storied knife-making region Laguiole; these blades are just as well known for their utility as their beauty. The straight edge is better for clean cuts into well-aged, well-marbled meats, which don’t need to be torn through so much as sliced.
Skewering Beef Ribs: Tramontina Passador
Used by: The chefs at Fogo de Chão
Buy at: knifemerchant.com, $31
These sturdy Tramontina Passador knives handle almost like a small sword and are intended for Brazilian barbecue chefs. At home, use it to cut barbecue and grilled meats (say, beef ribs or fraldinha, a.k.a. bottom sirloin). Fogo’s are by special order, but Victorinox makes a similar style with a handle that’s easy to grip and clean after messy encounters with ’cue.
Cleaning Tuna: Masamoto Yo-Deba
Used by: Isao Yamada, chef, Brushstroke
Buy at: Korin, from $290
Brushstroke’s staff use deba knives to break down fish (they’re large enough for the work of taking apart a whole snapper, but still delicate enough not to rip through flesh garishly). The Osaka-made knives at Brushstroke are rather hard to source; ask for a similar style at Korin.
Filleting Bluefish: Togiharu Wa-Sujihiki
Used by: Matthew Rudofker, executive chef, Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Buy at: Korin, from $190
While a good Japanese fish-filleter can be expensive (weeks of craftsmanship are involved), it’s multifunctional. At Ssäm, Rudofker also uses his Heiji wa-sujihiki (which is hard to source here; this Togiharu is similar) for cutting and butchering meat. At home, you can try it on chicken breasts or to slice ham for sandwiches.
Slicing Sashimi: Masamoto Shiro-ko Honyaki Yanagi
Used by: John Daley, executive chef, New York Sushi Ko
Buy at: Korin, from $831
Daley uses Masamoto yanagis for slicing striped bass and tuna belly at his LES sushi restaurant. The length of this yanagi allows a cut to be made in one long draw. If the price scares you away, Daley also likes the Kikuichi, available at JB Prince for around $280.
Shucking Oysters: French Oyster Knife
Used by: April Bloomfield, chef-owner, the John Dory Oyster Bar
Buy at: JB Prince, $19
Bloomfield’s been using these since her days at Bibendum in the U.K. (an oyster vendor used to give them out as gifts). “I fell in love with the wooden handle and the elegant look,” she says. The knife is strengthened with a full tang (an extension of the blade that’s hidden underneath the handle)—helpful for prying apart stronger shells.
Chopping Octopus: Suisin Sakimaru Takobiki
Used by: Jonathan Benno, executive chef, Lincoln Ristorante
Buy at: Korin, from $788
The takobiki blade is straight with a squared tip, giving it a balanced weight. As such, it’s meant to slice through tough ingredients like octopus. Benno also uses his to fillet raw fish—try it on salmon or tuna. Benno’s was a gift from David Chang; similar ones are sold at Korin, and this takobiki is actually on the lower end of the price scale.
Paring Chiles: DuoGlide Paring Knife
Used by: John Fraser, executive chef, Dovetail and Narcissa
Buy at: Broadway Panhandler; $20
Because Fraser uses paring knives so often (the blade’s versatile enough for removing snails from their shells and supreming oranges), they tended to break. So he started buying these inexpensive, lightweight, rubber-handled DuoGlides, easy to maneuver when making a brunoise and opening tiny bird’s-eye chiles.
Peeling Radishes: Shiro-ko Hongasumi Usuba
Used by: Hiroki Odo, executive chef, Kajitsu
Buy at: Korin, from $299
The usuba is made for the meticulous vegetable chopping common in Japanese cooking; the razorlike knife has a single bevel for slicing baby turnips and carrots so thin they are translucent. Hiroki’s Japan-made usuba was a gift from a mentor chef there; as always, try Korin for a substitute. This one has a blade made from refined, high-carbon white steel.
Chopping Tomatoes: Zwilling J.A. Henckels Serrated Utility Knife
Used by: Theresa Viggiano and Patrick Leger, owners, First Field ketchup
Buy at: Williams-Sonoma, $80
During First Field’s early days, Leger used a smaller version of this knife. “It quickly and neatly slices tomatoes,” says Viggiano. (The serration helps to force the knife through the skin.) They’ve now upgraded to this heavier model, because, Viggiano says, “we’re slicing a lot more tomatoes than we ever imagined.”
Julienning Carrots: Wusthöf Classic Chef’s Knife
Used by: Jonathan Benno
Buy at: Williams-Sonoma, from $160
An all-around champion: This everyday ten-inch knife performs well at kitchen tasks as varied as julienning carrots (the knife’s widest point is a good way to measure your matchsticks), breaking down a chicken, and crushing ginger. “You could use this knife for almost any job in the kitchen,” says Benno, who’s had his for at least 20 years.
Making Noodles: Suisin Inox Menkiri
Used by: Joseph Erdely, cook, Má Pêche
Buy at: Korin, from $250
For soba geeks like Erdely, this is an essential tool, highly specialized for cutting long strips of handmade Japanese noodles. The edge of the blade is finished by hand; and despite a daunting appearance, it’s relatively safe, as the handle sits above the blade. Suisin is a line helmed by Junro Aoki, who comes from one of Japan’s most well-known knife-making broods.
Cutting Bread: F. Dick Offset Serrated Knife
Used by: Matthew Tilden, owner, Scratchbread
Buy at: JB Prince, $43
At his Brooklyn café and bakery, Tilden relies on relatively cheap bread knives like this high-carbon F. Dick slicer (the German company’s been around for more than 200 years) to cut through focaccia and sticky buns. The knife’s handle is bent upward, so it allows more room for your knuckles when finishing a cut.
Slicing Smoked Meat: Forschner by Victorinox Bread Knife
Used by: Noah Bernamoff, co-owner, Mile End
Buy at: Williams-Sonoma, $50
“One day,” Bernamoff recalls, “my knife needed to be sharpened, but we were slammed. So I started slicing meat with the bread knife.” Turned out the Forschner was actually more versatile than his Nenox. And since the knife has a rounded tip, he can easily scoop up the meat to assemble sandwiches.
Serving Hard Cheese: Boska Cheese Slicer Taste
Used by: James Coogan, head cheese buyer, Fairway Markets
Buy at: Boska, $16; boska.com
This rosewood-handled, stainless-steel-bladed Boska knife is a formidable match for even the hardest Cheddar. Even serious cheese geeks, who obsess over $200-plus knives from Berti, are fans of Boska’s affordable offerings. Fairway cheese buyer James Coogan, says, “They’re real simple—no pretense. I keep them at home.”
Serving Any Cheese: Boska Havana Cheese Set
Used by: Charlotte Kamin, owner-monger, Bedford Cheese Shop
Buy at: Boska, $15; boska.com
Kamin, too, recommends most any knife from Boska. This brightly colored, dishwasher-friendly stainless-steel set will suit casual cheese lovers; it comes with a versatile slicer; a spade knife, for hard cheeses; and a forked spear, for holding, serving, and crumbling cheeses; plus, the set includes a serving board.
Serving Cheese on the Go: Opinel Picnic Knife
Used by: Murray’s Cheese mongers
Buy at: Murray’s Cheese, $17
This entry’s blade folds to lock securely into the wooden handle, meaning it’s safe to toss in a picnic basket (it won’t impale your bananas). But the knife itself, made of high-carbon steel, is also powerful enough to slice almost anything you might want to consume in a park (in addition to cheese, baguettes, salami, an apple).
Serving Cake: Olympic Dessert Set
Used by: Judy Lai, founder and pastry chef, Silk Cakes
Buy at: Crate and Barrel, $50
This satin-finished stainless-steel set, which Lai uses in her Forest Hills–based retail shop to cut and transfer slices of cake, strikes a balance between utility and attractiveness. The handles are hollow, making the set easy to lift, and the pieces can also be put through the dishwasher. Run it under very hot water just prior to slicing, which will help the knife make a clean, perfect cut.
Serving Fancy Cake:ThermoHauser Pastry Knife
Used by: Marriett Velasquez, private pastry chef
Buy at: SonRidge, $30; sonridgeonline.com
This 12-inch knife is made with a pointed tip, so slicing large cakes is easy and clean. Use it to remove a layer cake neatly from a springform pan. While pastry knives are most often found in restaurants—slicing coffee cake with a foot-long blade at a dinner party is a bit much—they’re useful for home bakers looking to create perfect, non-crumbly slices from fondant.
Garnishing Cocktails: Kyocera Ceramic Utility Knife
Used by: Mathew Resler, bartender
Buy at: Crate and Barrel, $30
Reserving this knife for bar use only is a good idea: The ceramic blade will typically last longer without sharpening (and who keeps a honing steel at their home bar?). Also: While a rust-spotted knife might transfer a metallic taste to food, ceramic stains much less easily than steel, so you can slice chunks of pineapple for tiki drinks without worrying about imparting any flavor to the fruit.
Zesting Lemons: OXO Channel Knife and Lemon Zester
Used by: Eben Freeman, bar director, the Butterfly
Buy at: Broadway Panhandler, $8
Cocktail master Freeman says that this knife’s sturdy, nonslip rubber handle makes it perfect for creating extra-long twists out of tough-skinned lemons. OXO’s knife doubles as a zester, and it’s made of stainless steel, so it’s easy to clean and fine to drop in the dishwasher.
Sabering Champagne: Laguiole Champagne Saber
Used by: Patrick Cappiello, wine director, Pearl & Ash
Buy at: Vintry Fine Wines, $139
At Pearl & Ash, Cappiello continues the Napoleonic tradition of using a saber to strike the bottle and whisk off the neck in one fell swoop. His sword of choice, from Châteaux Laguiole, is dull on both edges—the bluntness is for safety—and has a polished rosewood handle, fitting for a piece that’s all about pageantry.
Cut Brooklyn: Journeyman 240, $650; cutbrooklyn.com
Joel Bukiewicz, the scene’s reigning king, hand-crafts knives in his Gowanus workshop. This one has a black-walnut handle, copper pins, and a carbon steel blade.
Chelsea Miller Knives: Chef knife with rosewood handle, $450; chelseamillerknives.com
The daughter of a blacksmith, Williamsburg-based Chelsea Miller often makes her blades from repurposed horseshoe rasps found in Vermont.
Orchard Steel: Steak knife with black-walnut handle, $275; orchardsteel.com
Bukiewicz apprentice Moriah Cowles now has her own Sunset Park studio inside Industry City Distillery, where she hand-forges high-carbon steel knives; the handles are of wood sourced from her family’s Vermont orchard.
Ariele Alasko: Black-walnut butter knife, $65; arielealasko.com
Pratt grad and custom woodworker Alasko carves sculptural cutlery like these black-walnut butter knives. Her wood is often sourced from a local lumberyard.
NYCutlery: Salad knife with birch handle, $350; nycutlery.blogspot.com
After growing up on a Minnesota farm (followed by five years traveling with photographer Ryan McGinley), Christopher Harth now makes custom knives and also offers sharpening and refurbishing at Gowanus Whole Foods.