As I’ve mentioned before in this column, handcrafted Japanese kitchen knives have become the accepted cutlery benchmark among gourmet and professional chefs alike in the last few years. With the exception of “yagani” knives for preparing sashimi, most models are copies of traditional French patterns. The primary advantage of these knives over the classic German professional lines is that they are forged from higher grades of steel, heat treated to much harder Rockwell and ground to very thin edges. But like any group wanting to feel more elite than the common masses, hard-core “foodies” no longer seem to be satisfied with the western-influenced “Yo gyuto” knives. Now if it isn’t a “Wa-gyuto,” they will barely give it a second glance!
To define what a Wa-gyuto is, I’ll start with the second part of that name. I’ve been told that eating beef in any quantity is a fairly new culinary trend in Japan. Because of this, they really don’t have a long history of knives suited to processing red meat for the table. In the last few decades, the “gyuto” or “cow sword” has evolved into the tool of choice. Of course, to the American eye the majority of gyutos simply follow the French style of chef’s knife rather than the heavier German pattern. The “Wa” part of the name comes from the use of a traditional Japanese pattern handle. This is commonly very plain “ho” wood, a type of magnolia native to their islands, with a water buffalo horn collar.