Shun kitchen knives are some of the most coveted cutting tools on the market. Dominique Dobson, National Demonstrator Coordinator at Shun Cutlery, talks about knife styles, selecting a knife, and what makes Shun stand out against the rest.
Buying the Right Knife for You
Why is it important to find a style of knife that works for you?
Just as no one pair of shoes fits every foot, no one knife will fit every hand or every task. Think about how you will use the knife and learn about which knives perform well for the tasks you perform. Once you have narrowed the field to the best performers, try the knives out. If you choose to simply purchase a set online or from a local retailer without knowing what your needs are, your investment will be wasted. It pays to educate yourself before you pull out your wallet.
Considering ergonomics and cooking style, how can someone find the best knife for them?
I highly recommend visiting your local gourmet store. Don't just hold the knives - hold them in the same way you hold a knife when you actually use it. Take the knife to a counter and mimic the motion you use when cutting. It's only through practicing how you cut that you will determine whether the knife fits your hand and whether you will be comfortable using the knife in your own kitchen.
What knives are the most important for a home cook to have?
The key shapes I would advise investing in are: a chef's knife (or Santoku, depending upon how you cut), a paring knife, a utility knife, and, if you will use it, a bread knife. These four blade shapes can perform the vast majority of prep tasks in the kitchen. I believe you only need one serrated blade out of the bunch, and for me it has to be a lower frequency serration, where my food will be cut and not torn. Most users prefer to have the utility knife be serrated, so it can easily be used on thin-skinned fruits and veggies, like tomatoes.
How can you get the equipment you need without breaking the bank?
First, purchase the key pieces - don't go all out on a 23-piece set unless you know you will use all 23 pieces. Pick up three to four knives that you know you will use consistently. These are the knives you can use for almost everything. Buy the best quality pieces you can afford. It is much better to get two knives that are designed to last a lifetime than to replace a lesser quality set of knives every few years.
Also, many retailers sell knives at similar pricing, so compare and look for other deals. Does the store offer a Gift With Purchase? Do they have one or two knives at "kicker" pricing? ("Kicker pricing" is designed to allow the user to try a knife at an amazing price and keep them coming back for more.)
Does it matter what a knife is made from?
It absolutely makes a difference. I'd be willing to bet that there are as many steel recipes as there are recipes for chocolate chip cookies. With cookies, the difference in ingredients yields a different flavor or texture. With knives, we've seen the difference materials make in how the knife performs. There are knives on the market that hold a sharp edge but are susceptible to rust and corrosion, knives that don't rust but can't hold an edge, and then there are a select few on the market who can hold a strong edge and still withstand the daily rigors of kitchen use. The difference is all in what ingredients were used to make those knives. That's why Shun uses the hardened Japanese metals we use.
What are the primary differences between a good kitchen knife and a low quality model?
A good quality knife will:
- Produce clean slices without tearing your food
- Hold its edge for a substantial time period
- Be able to be re-sharpened, making your initial investment a lifetime investment.
A lesser quality knife will:
- Use less expensive metals in the blade and therefore not hold its edge - the edge will roll or the blade will dull quickly.
- Often, poor quality knives will have a serrated blade that allows it to "stay sharp." The truth is that is a sign that it wasn't sharp to begin with.
Why should one spend more for a high quality product?
It's worth spending more because when you look at the replacement cost over a lifetime (not to mention the cost of stitches when you cut yourself with a dull knife!), the return on investment is simply higher when you purchase an item designed to last a lifetime.
What sets Shun knives apart from other cutlery?
Shun knives are sharper out of the box, holding an extreme 16-degree blade angle. They stay sharp longer because of the exotic blade steels we use. The D-shaped PakkaWood handles make them comfortable and easy to use, as well as moisture and heat resistant. Pair that with the benefits of clad Damascus technology, which gives our knives strength and durability, and you have a line of knives which are beautiful to look at and perform well in the hand!
In Japanese, the word Shun means "best time of the year," or as we say here in the USA "as good as it gets."
Do you have any advice for those looking to sharpen their knife skills?
Practice! I highly recommend basic knife skills classes, offered at gourmet shops such as Sur la Table. Once you have learned the proper methods, go home and practice what you have learned. After about two weeks of daily practice, what once felt awkward will feel like second nature.
Is there one knife skills book in particular that you think is most valuable to home cooks?
I really like "Knife Skills Illustrated," by Peter Hertmann. I love that he demonstrates both right-handed and left-handed cutting skills.
Can you tell me more about French vs. Asian chopping style?
European chopping tends to be more of a rocking motion, whereas Japanese chopping tends to be more vertical in motion. Neither one is the ax-like chopping that is called to mind by the name of the action; both are a forward push on the blade.
The difference is that in Japanese cooking, the tip of the blade doesn't tend to rest on the cutting board the way it does with European chopping. The shape of the knife will make a difference because if you are rocking your blade, a curved belly will allow for an easier motion while still cutting through the item. With the more vertical Asian motion, a flatter blade will allow for a clean cut through the entire item.
If someone has questions about purchasing or using cutlery, where do you recommend they go for more information?
While the Internet has become a great source for information, there are many sites that can't guarantee the integrity of their information. Because of that, I recommend going straight to the retailers' or manufacturers' websites. Often with retail websites you will find reviews from other users, which are very helpful. Detailed technical information can often be found through the manufacturers.
Learn More About Shun
For more information on Shun cutlery, you can visit their website.