There was a time when any custom knife maker adding kitchen cutlery to his line would take one of two routes. He would either offer some type of long bladed, generic butcher/slicing knife or he would design his own interpretation of the classic French chef. French chef pattern knives are still a common theme but few makers these days venture into food prep blades without also offering a “santoku.” The latest to pass through our kitchen is from Mike Young of Sawtooth Cutlery.
Mike’s santoku offers a 6.50-inch long x 2.25-inch wide x 0.94-inch thick blade of S30V stainless steel in a choice of hardwood handles. The one sent to the magazine sported very attractive amboyna burl scales. Young normally prices these at around $195, depending on the handle material chosen.
My understanding is that the “santoku” pattern originated in Japan as a household all-purpose alternative to the classic battery of cutlery used by professional cooks. There are various definitions of the word floating around but most focus on something like “knife of three virtues,” chopping, slicing and mincing. The style is probably not ideal for large jobs and I suspect they would have limited value in a commercial kitchen environment. On the other hand, for the smaller family meals many modern home cooks prepare, they make an excellent alternative to the standard French chef.
At first, I was a little skeptical about the compact size of the Sawtooth knife, as the average santoku usually falls in the 7-inch range. On the plus side, the blade is wider than most, which gives the hand plenty of clearance when chopping and dicing. In some ways, this knife is more like a mini-Chinese cleaver than a santoku. Like the blade, the handle may also appear a little short until you actually use it in the professional’s pinch grip between thumb and forefinger. I immediately decided this was one of the more comfortable santoku handles I’ve had the pleasure to use. Given my fondness for the natural appearance and feel of wood, the burl scales added another plus to the knife.
Way too many custom knifemakers never get past the “my knives are tough enough to claw your way out of the wilderness” school of craftsmanship when they try their hands at kitchen cutlery. You end up with something that may look like a cooking blade but that is too thick-edged for cutting normal food materials efficiently. Thin is in when it comes to kitchen knives. The evaluation knife was put through its paces on a number of Ethiopian, Thai and Chinese dishes chosen especially for the fact they required lots of slicing, dicing and chopping. I quickly found that the compact blade gave excellent control during fine slicing and dicing tasks.
Ready For The Kitchen
Other than a few custom makers, I don’t know of anyone using CPM S30V stainless for kitchen cutlery on a major scale. The companies making restaurant and gourmet grades of cutlery seem to always have one of two goals: Either they want to make inexpensive “line-kitchen-tough” tools or attractive “sets” that will match someone’s kitchen decor. While their promotional literature may say otherwise, actual edge holding takes a back seat to price and or appearance.
After two weeks of everyday use in our kitchen, the edge was starting to reach the point where it would no longer effortlessly slice a ripe tomato. For me at least, this means it is time to touch up a knife’s edge. My two constant cutting board companions are an EZE-LAP diamond-coated butcher’s steel and a 6-inch natural Belgium whetstone. If one doesn’t work on a knife, the other usually will. In this case, I gave the Young knife 10 passes on each side across the Belgium stone and tried it on a tomato. The knife was once more capable of making slices thin enough to see through with almost zero pressure on the blade.
My next plan is to have some kind of a blade cover/sheath made up for this santoku, as I think its compact size and stainless blade should make it ideal for our truck camping kitchen kit. Mike also offers a nice range of other kitchen and outdoor knives in his line. If they all perform as well as his Santoku, he should go far in the field.
For more information contact Mike Young/Sawtooth Cutlery at www.sawtoothcutlery.com; 208-859-8197.
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by Durwood Hollis / Sep 21, 2009