A Cut Above the Rest

Ask any chef about what is the most important tool any cook can own, and I promise you that the first words from their lips will be “a sharp knife.” So critical to every sort of kitchen task, the true value of this most common utensil can not be overstated. It may seem like a strange thing to propose as a prime holiday gift to some, but anyone that likes to bang around in the kitchen even a little bit should undoubtedly be thrilled by such a useful present.

For many years, my everyday, prized knife was a flimsy santoku, purchased at TJ Maxx for a whopping $15, accompanied by a sadly pitted and stained plastic cutting board that came from the dollar store many years prior. Never could I have dreamed of how much use both items would get, or considered investing in something a bit more substantial. Merely basic tools to get me through some meal prep while living on campus, they seemed like more than enough to get the job done at the time. Oh, how little I knew about knives.

Not that I can claim to be an expert now, but after taking a trip to the Korin store in New York City, I can tell you what a real knife should feel like. Evenly weighted, from the handle to the tip of the blade; light-weight, but still with enough heft to feel substantial in the hand; and of course, very, very sharp. Let me tell you, the knife that I set my sights on, the Togiharu Cobalt Damascus Santoku, was like nothing I had ever used to butcher vegetables before. A beauty with a fearsome edge, this powerful blade wasn’t even in the same category as the flimsy metal stick I left at home. Walking out of the store with my dangerous new toy in hand, provided for the sake of a review, it felt like stealing. I raced out of there before they could change their minds.

An excellent option for both chefs and amateurs alike, I immediately felt the difference upon upgrading to a real knife. Prepping mis en place was suddenly no longer a chore, and it was a snap to power through towering stacks of veggies without any strain. Amazingly for a clutz like me, I haven’t even managed to slice off my fingers yet, which seems highly possible considering the blade on this monster. “Sharp” doesn’t begin to describe it, as is evident by the gossamer-thin slices of lemon it was able to produce above, breezing straight through rind, fragile segments, and pips altogether without a snag.

Though still slightly intimidating to use due to the comparatively extreme increase in chopping power, it really does make a world of difference to have the proper tools for a job. As an item that will get daily attention, an upgrade could be a worthwhile idea for Santa to explore when shopping for your favorite cooking enthusiast.

And I did take it upon myself to also step up my cutting board options; investing in a simple but sturdy little bamboo number was the least I could do for this serious santoku.

25 thoughts on “A Cut Above the Rest

  1. Ooooooh. It’s a beauty! I can’t help but think of my mum when I read your story: when I was still living at home, my mum used to always scold me for “using the wrong knife” when I was chopping veggies. I’d used the smallest knife possible because the bigger ones, which still didn’t even come close to measuring up to the bad boy you were using, intimidated me. Then, when in Italy, I used a Santoku knife and it changed my life.

    Also, let’s remove the “yet” from “I haven’t even managed to slice off my fingers yet”, shall we? *knocks on wood* :-)

    Speaking of wood, your cutting board is gorgeous. It looks a bit like one I have, a gift from a carpenter friend of mine (I won’t advertise here, but if you ever need something of the like, he’s your guy).

    Enjoy and be careful! :-)

    1. Same here! I used to use the tiny paring knife, on a postage stamp-sized cutting board! The only difference is that my mom didn’t scold me, and I’m pretty certain I actually got the habit from her. ;)

      Thank you for the well wishes- I still haven’t even cut myself! Now I’m sure I just jinxed it, but hey, a pretty good run for me.

  2. Nice knife, keep it sharp. As Alton Brown says, you’re much more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one as you end up having to use more pressure to cut with a dull blade.

    1. Very true, and I’m sure that’s why I struggled so much / injured myself so much with my old santoku. Of course, when I finally got this new knife, I manged to cut myself just washing it, so it can go both ways…

  3. Lucky you! Years ago I bought two Japanese hand made damascus steel knives and I take them with me everywhere. They’re light and a joy to handle and I never get fatigued when I have tons of stuff to chop. You can tell how sharp they are by running your tongue along a sliced carrot and it feels as smooth as glass.

  4. I received a Wusthof knife this past year and now I can’t go back to the crappy knife I was using. It’s amazing what a difference it makes!

  5. They GAVE you that gorgeous knife? Vegetable ‘butchering’ must be such a joy, now, you’ll never go back to mere chopping! We recently purchased a new knife, though it’s not as cool as yours, and now I think I need a knife sharpener to keep it at its best. Enjoy your new knife — it’s a beauty.

    1. Oh I know, I’m completely and utterly spoiled! I feel as though they might show up at my doorstep at any moment, demanding that I return it now that I’ve written my review though. It’s easily the nicest knife I’ve ever used.

      But man, I wish I could have at least had the forethought to photograph some of the other knives in the store… We’re taking $6 – 7,000 SWORDS, almost literally. I don’t even know how you would use them for cooking!

  6. I really like the idea of writing articles still related to food but that are not recipes. I think it is really interesting, and very thoughtful too.

    Knives are one of the things I do not think much about, as if I was never cutting anything, and obviously as everyone in a kitchen it comes times when I do need to cut.
    But it never crossed mymind that a good knife would change the way I cook and prepare my vegetables or other foods that need to be cut into pieces, slices etc.
    I need to think about it a bit more.

    I would probably not buy a knife as expensive as yours first, but still.
    By the way it is really handsome object you got (do not now if ‘handsome’ can be used for things) – I really like the blade with these waves on it. And I have to say that it looks way more Japanese than a mere knife without any decorations on it.

  7. Talk about coincidence. Only 2 days ago was I thinking…I wonder what the best knife is to use. I’ve been using my trusty Japanese blade for about 10 years. I think it’s time to step it up. Very timely. Thank you!

  8. That’s one gorgeous and impressive knife, but, wow, what a hefty prize tag… Lucky you for getting it free! I would have raced out of the store too!

  9. I asked my boyfriend to get me a chef’s knife and a santoku knife for my birthday this year (which he did), and they have been some of the best gifts that I have ever received! You are spot on with suggesting this for an xmas gift. :D

  10. A good knife is like a good bed. One uses both everyday for well over just a few minutes so they better provide great comfort of use. Your post is quite timely, we started carrying kitchenware on our gourmet store this season as we agreed they were great, original gifts.

  11. That knife is beautiful.

    I got into cooking only a year and a half or so ago, and for the first 15 months, I worked with dull steak knives that have been owned by my parents since long before I was born and could not chop celery without having to saw the poor vegetable.

    I was so grateful to receive TWO great knives and a knife sharpener for my birthday back in May, and I love them dearly. I still am in awe at the efficiency whenever I chop celery!

  12. Loving your new knife. My hubby also gave me an early gift with some new Japanese Steel. Do please be careful with the bamboo chopping board as bamboo is really hard and as Japanese steel knives are very hard, this can cause chips in your new knife. Plastic cutting boards are little more pliable.

  13. Congrats on your picture nom for the Mochimochi Land Contest! I love all your photos and recipes too.

  14. A good knife really makes all the difference, doesn’t it? I’m no pro, but this one is gorgeous and sounds like a dream to work with!

  15. Looks like the Korin Santa came early for you, Hannah! Your new knife is an absolute work of art. I remembering hearing that they are forged layer upon folded layer, and that’s part of what creates their visual beauty. Love that! I agree that there is NOTHING like having an excellent tool from which you know what to expect. Dull knives truly are more dangerous, primarily because they are unpredictable. I have become such a knife snob that if I know I’ll be cooking somewhere, I always bring my own. Japanese shapes are my favorite; I have a few Santokus and several Nakiris in both metal and ceramic. I haven’t ever tried one from Korin, but you are really tempting me, Hannah! Guess I’d better start talking to Santa. ;-) Thanks for sharing your great review.

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