Monday, October 31, 2011

Japanese Conversion

I have been cooking professionally for 25 years and have been a dedicated Wusthof Classic Chef.  Classical utilitarian durability was plenty good enough and the lifetime warranty has accounted for several replacements in a long career of use and abuse.  Happily, I can witness that many knives have stayed with me through most of that time.
When the various Santuko style knives became popular, followed by the Global mini-craze and most recently the super-high end Japanese cutlery came into favor, I was not a fan of any of them.  Santoku  shaped knives were good for too few tasks, making them a poor choice for the "every knife".  Global’s offerings were just too "futuristic" and from a practical and ergonomic perspective - too light to be any good.  Not only did their hollow character fail to inspire confidence, their willowy feel required too much input from the user and were therefore, tiring.  The Japanese whiz-bang cutlery seemed reserved for trophy buyers, too pretty for the line, too expensive for 95% of the chefs in the field to afford.

So, after a demonstration at a W-S in Northern VA, I was able to enjoy a substantial discount and took a bite on a Shun Kaji, Western 8".  At nearly $300, regular price, it was far more than I would have spent if I were paying retail, but still substantially UNDER the top of the line Damascus, uber-unobtanium Shun Premier line.   The latter are more like presentation grade knives for those who are truly up their own ass.

For me, being a Southpaw, the full range of Japanese knives has been an uncomfortable and limited exposure at best.  The “D” shape to most handles being obstacle and the single sided bevel to the edge being the second.  The handle shape can be overlooked by some, but the bevel is a deal-breaker.  The Shun Kaji has both a classical and non-specific handle shape and an equal degree of bevel to it’s edge grinding.  Make no mistake, the Shun knives are ground for detail work – at approximately a 16 degree angle, the edges are best used for dissecting vegetables and protein, no hacking up a chicken.  I also keep a $9 China-Town special, one-piece cleaver around for the poultry work.

Having test driven this knife for a few weeks now, I can say without reservation that this is the sharpest, out of the box knife I have ever purchased.  Without a doubt one of the most comfortable to use all day with excellent balance, reasonable weight for repetitive chopping, yet light enough to work all day on brunoise. 

For kicks and to see how this knife would feel to a line-dog, I spent about 2 hours making brunoise mirepoix.  It's been years since I've done that kind of volume knifework and behold, not fatigue.  It may sound extreme, but if you notice the tool, it's not very comfortable for you.  Not that many line cooks are going to drop half a week's pay on a knife, but I do promise, those that do won't be disappointed.
The Shun is an instinctive pointing device.  My grip is very choked up on the blade and with the balance point just behind the bolster, I can easily twitch the point with my pinky finger and by using fine motor movements, one's body doesn't get as tired, as fast.

This is knife is well worth the price of admission.  As I was looking for a new French knife, the Shun Kaji is the best of both worlds.  An added plus is that this knife is built with a two sided bevel and ambidextrous handle - I am left handed, so this matters.   

5 Stars.

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