Sometimes I think I became a chef just so that I could play with knifes. I’ve carried a knife of one kind or another in my pocket since I was old enough to flick a blade and that passion for craftsmanship and utility has never waned. I regularly get asked about what kind of knives I use, “my answer is, “it often depends on what I’m cooking.” Over the years I have come to rely on a variety of knifes to manage different tasks. The one constant being that my blades have to be impeccably clean and razor sharp, or they are virtually useless for my work.
I buy my knives from people who are not only as passionate as I am about the subject, but who can teach me a few things along the way. Sonoma Cutlery, located in the Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa, is just such a place. The shop has been in existence for twenty six years, and is now owned by Dylan and Jodi Cohen (Jodi’s grandparents were the original owners) and their silent partner Judy Gunar. I visit the shop whenever I can because I get to fuel my “kitchen samurai” fantasies by gawking at the incredible selection of both kitchen and utilitarian knives, not to mention tons of other cool chef’s gadgets and my favorite of all, their collection of ultra high-tech Surefire flashlights and fighting knives. It’s a display case that Dylan calls his Surefire “crack” section because people can’t stop buying the flashlights. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, just like the ones you see on all the crime shows.
Dylan, who calls himself a knife geek, is a virtual encyclopedia of metallurgic information as it applies to knives. On the morning I met with him and Jodi, he off handedly rattled off steel compound recipes faster than I could even follow them, let alone write them down. But then he broke it all down for me, so I could translate it to all of you and for that I am grateful.
Personally, I use both Japanese hard steel knifes and Swiss soft steel knives. I like the Swiss Forschner knives, because they are reasonably priced and easy to keep sharp during a long day. For me it is not unusual to use the same knife for twelve hours straight, six days a week, so it’s imperative that I have a knife that can be sharpened easily. Then I use mid-range hard steel Japanese knives by Mac, because they keep an edge for a long time and I love their delicate, balanced feel. The only problem is that I need a ceramic steel to hone the Mac knives and a regular steel for the Forshners, because ceramic is the only thing hard enough to hone Japanese steel (aside from diamond), but using it on the Swiss knifes would grind them down too fast.
Listed below are the three categories of chef’s knives that are sold at Sonoma Cutlery, broken down by country of origin and blend of metals