What do professional chefs look for in a chef’s knife? We asked two pro chefs, both fans of knifemaker Don Nguyen. Their answers are instructive not only on Nguyen’s work but chef’s knives in general.
“Thin Behind the Edge to Win”
Kolter Livengood is a chef at Brightwok Kitchen, “a veggie-focused, Asian inspired restaurant” in Chicago. Detail and aesthetics, with an equal emphasis on testing, are some of Livengood’s requirements in a chef ’s knife.
“A great deal of consideration is given to the ‘knife life’ or how the blade will be sharpened away over time,” he observed. “How the knife tapers both from handle to tip and spine to edge give the ability to maintain that geometry for 20 to 30 years depending on use and original blade size, making the appropriately high-priced tool seem very affordable over time.
“Don’s knives tend to be thicker at the spine, yet taper to being extremely thin behind the edge. This seems simple but it’s the subtle convexity from spine to edge that gives the knife its incredible feel when cutting. The thick spine gives the knife weight, a weight that by no means makes the knife heavy, and assists with downward momentum, which makes a huge impact on how the knife feels when cutting. The spine is also perfectly rounded, which, when combined with its thickness, makes it extremely comfortable and less damaging to the hand. The convexity aids in separating the food that’s being cut from the bulk, and since the blade is not flat, foods like potatoes and cucumbers don’t annoyingly suction or stick to the side of the knife when chopping.
“‘Thin to win’ should be amended to ‘thin behind the edge to win,’ as I much prefer a knife with heft and zero spine flex to the chef’s knives with 1-to-2-millimeter spine thicknesses popular from 2009 to 2012.”
Single-Beveled Knives for the Win
Taro Kobayashi, a chef at Mame, a sushi restaurant in Eugene, Oregon, uses Nguyen chef’s knives.
“The short gyuto I have at home for everyday tasks from poultry and fish butchering to dicing vegetables,” Kobayashi noted. “It is just a good, all-around bruiser. It is a bit thicker for a Don knife but I really enjoy it since I can just ‘go ham’ with it. Ha-ha! That almost sounded like a kitchen pun. Sorry.”
Kitchen standup comedy notwithstanding, Kobayashi’s favorite Nguyen chef’s knife is a 240-millimeter model of W2 tool steel and a lightning-strike carbon fiber handle.
“I use it to slice fish and other proteins while making sushi,” the chef noted. “Even though I am a bit old school when it comes to knife use and love single-beveled knives for fish slicing and sushi preparation, I can’t help but use this one sometimes. It’s easy on the hands, easy to sharpen and takes a keen edge. I was a bit worried about the handle shape until I used it. It’s one of the best designs aesthetically, but you would not know how good it feels until you get it in hand and abuse it.”
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