When asked, chefs say the most important kitchen equipment is their set of knives. Zara Horner finds out why.
Satisfying heft… intuitive design… well-crafted… elegant… reliable… textured… safe… to the novice none of those words would be automatically associated with knives, but to a professional these features are just the beginning.
“Probably the only statement that will receive unanimous consensus from chefs and the culinary community across the world would be that knives are the most important tool in the kitchen,” agrees Bassel Siblini, co founder and managing partner, Pacific67.
“It holds true in every kitchen culture on the planet and it stems from the fact that it is the first tool chefs reach for to prep ingredients. It helps to do a successful mise en place, which in turn allows a streamlined organised cooking process.
“Beyond the functional aspect of knives, at Pacific67 we believe there is an emotional connection between a person and their knives, making the knife the most loved and essential tool in the kitchen.”
A good chef is a multi tasker, and a good chef knife is designed to handle multiple jobs.
“When it comes to cooking, preparing the ingredients is very important,” agrees Carl Elsener, CEO Victorinox. “It requires very special, sharp knives, without them the food cannot be honed into the correct shape.
“Good knives are irreplaceable helpers. So it is crucial that the right tools are available in the kitchen. Chefs are really dependent on that.”
A good knife is seen as an extention of the chef’s arm and as such must be easily manoeuverable with a comfortable weight and balance to enable chef to move effortlessly between slicing, chopping, dicing, filleting, peeling etc.
“A Western chef will use different knives to a Japanese or Chinese chef,” Hans-Joachim Giesser owner of German manufacturer Giesser points out.
“Though it is absolutely true that the knife set is the most important equipment in any professional kitchen, a Western chef needs a parer, a 10-inch blade, a filleting knife, a boning knife and a slicer.”
For Giesser, “Knives are very traditional tools and the blade shapes haven‘t changed over decades. However, today we have a much greater variety of knives. As the world has become more global manufacturers have increased their ranges and chefs are curious to use and experience new tools.
“While demand hasn’t changed greatly, we are seeing a trend towards more expensive knives with a higher performance.”
The latest series from Giesser is the Premium Cut range which combines sharpness with ergonomical cutting performance, and “never before-seen handles”, according to Giesser.
The company is also working on a range of steak knives to overcome the deficiency of sharp knives in steak houses. “Nice sharp knives are rare in most of these restaurants,” Giesser says. “Guests can pay a lot for their meat but have to cut it with poor knives. We are working on developing a series to change this situation.”
The choice of knife comes down to personal preferences. For example, full bolster – the band of metal separating blade and handle – half bolster or no bolster will depend on whether a safe grip is deemed more important than the fact that bolsters can make the knife heavier and harder to sharpen.
In recent years ceramic knives have seen a surge in popularity. They can be sharper, keep an edge longer and don’t rust. But some chefs find them brittle and have concerns regarding safety. Other chefs prefer their knives not to be coated with Damascus steel, as many knives are now, because they believe the coating can chip. Finally, while it is essential the handle is comfortable the material from which it is made can be an issue, with some chefs prefering a polymer or fibrox handle while others say a wood/plastic composite is harder to look after.
“The chef’s knife is a classic, and the centrepiece of any professional kitchen,” a spokesperson for Friedr.Dick says. “A slightly curved cutting edge makes these knives ideal for the rocking cut.”
The company has been making knives since 1778 and it’s latest offering is the Hektor. “Ideal for cutting larger pieces of meat and fish, it is also perfect as a brisket knife because the long curved blade can achieve a long drawn cut,” the spokesperson tells us, while “the Kullenschliff (Granton edge) reduces the amount of food that sticks to the blade.”
“Pacific67 Originals Collection is our first line of kitchen knives,” designer and co-founder Akos Venesz says.
“The knives are produced around three key pillars: quality, function and aesthetics, using Japanese VG-10 steel, tempered to 62hrc, with a uniquely designed Damascus finish, joined to a colourful Pakkawood handle, known for its durability.
“We designed our blades to have the perfect size, height, angles and curvature to work for different cutting motions, and subsequently they work for Asian and Western cuisine preparation.”
Ergonomically designed to reduce fatigue, the knives come with unusually coloured handles: grey, turquoise or blue.
Knife and blade shapes have not changed significantly over the last few years, Victorinox’s Elsener agrees, but “certain types of knives have received more attention, for example, the Santoku knife.” Developed in Japan, this 13- to 20cm long knife has a curved edge and is used for slicing, dicing and mincing. The blade and handle are weighted equally.
“And, more attention is being paid to safety-related issues,” Elsener continues. “So handles have been redesigned and provided with a ‘nose’. Knife handles are now available in many colours to distinguish them when in use – this also ensures hygienic food preparation.”
Victorinox knife blades are manufactured with stainless steel, and the handles with different materials, though: “in the professional sector, non-slip and sterilisable Fibrox is usually preferred, and fluted edges are also popular,” Elsener points out.
In the pipeline for the company is a ‘dual grip’ collection. The knife handles are manufactured in the soft grip process with two components, a hard core and a softer non-slip outer layer. “The knife adapts perfectly to each hand and makes working in a professional environment over hours and hours very comfortable,” Elsener says.
Stainless chrome molybdenum vanadium steel is the hallmark of good knives, for Elsener. This steel “guarantees sharpness and meets the highest hygienic certificable requirements. Every knife is expected to be sharp from the start, but only a good knife stays that way.”
Prerequisites for a consistently high level of edge retention are high-grade steel, consistently performed heat treatments and precise machining of the cutting edge. Cutting is easier when the knife is safe in the hand and an ergonomically shaped handle made of high-quality material can prevent slipping and fatigue of the hand.
“The knives and cutlery markets have seen tremendous growth in the last few years and will continue to grow for the next five years,” Siblini predicts. “This is entirely driven by the global ‘foodie phenomenon’ and E-commerce. We will be launching a new range this August 2018, and have three other lines planned for launch in the next 18 months.”