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10.07.08

Samurai Chazerai*

Do I Need a Pastry Torch?: Kitchen Gadget Reviews, Food Memoir


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shun

I shamelessly admit that cooking gear is my drug of choice, I really love kitchen knives. I have a load of them, ranging from a duet of paring knives, as well as 4”, 6”, 8”, and 12” chefs, boning, slicing, utility, and of course like all good dilettantes, a Santoku. There’s a cleaver in there somewhere, but some reckless chopping mission has ruined it. The knives stand at attention along a magnetic bar, arranged in ascending order. As I retire for the evening, I glance at the assemblage and hope that in the event an intruder breaks into the house during the night the plentiful array of culinary blades don’t give the criminal thoughts beyond taking the TV, PC, and other assets.

We’ve had knives from several sources. Perhaps the most bizarre was the knife we rescued. My wife was working as an activities therapist at an Orthodox Jewish nursing home here in Cincinnati. One of the kitchen knives, a 10” Dexter cook’s model, used on the dairy side, somehow found its way to the meat side. Quickly, the attending rabbi ordered that the knife be disposed in the prescribed manner according to the Halacha, the Jewish religious law… a Yiddisher riff on the Napoleonic code. The ruling called for burying the poor defenseless blade in the dirt for a time in order that the celestial inspection authorities would somehow purify the tool and remedy the mistake. Holly convinced the kitchen staff to spare the knife. She took it home. We used it for years. It held an edge like crazy, despite its lack of pedigree- a stamped vs. forged blade, no bolster, and humble white plastic handle. I believe it now occupies a place of honor in my daughter’s Chicago kitchen.

Over the years, the cooking minded have become familiar with a number of styles and brands while choosing and building their knife collections. Though we’re continually told that a paring knife and an 8 “ chef’s blade will get you through about anything a recipe can throw your way, the knife industry dutifully rolls out new shapes, multi-tasking blades, and fashion. Our collection includes knives from Wusthoff, Global, Shun, Kyocera, Henckels, and Sabatier (the last being the 12” carbon steel monster I got in a gift shop in Bloomington, Indiana for 12 bucks.). We’ve been partial to the Wusthoff…me the Classic and my wife the Grand Prix. Global entered our kitchen life as a 5 “ vegetable cleaver, followed by a small-serrated blade, and finally, a forged 8” killer vegetable/Asian cooks model that is forged and much heavier than the others. The Henckels goes way back. I forget how many stars are in its series name. It’s humble, but it stays sharp and does much work. The Shun Classic 8” cook’s model was a birthday gift from my wife and son. It reigns supreme alongside the Wusthoff 8”. My wife found the Ming Tsai ceramic blade on EBay for a small fraction of its retail cost. It scares me to death…looks like a toy but cuts like a razor.

I was content, but on recent trips to Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table I’ve realized the knife game has changed. Everything now looks Japanese. Wusthoffs look like variations on the Shun Ken Onion series. Alton Brown has his own angled Shuns. Henckels either has a clone series or will release one soon. Some of the cookware folks have entered the competition. Calphalon has the Katana series…. and here I thought that Suzuki had that brand name nailed down for life.

So, what gives? Aside from fashion, this probably has to do with the Japanese knives’ reputation for sharpness, hardness ala the Rockwell “C” scale, and close association with the Samurai blades of feudal Japan. Oh, and of course, one must throw ergonomics into the mix. Anything that vaguely resembles something designed by a chiropractor has instant credibility.

But, I’m not about to abandon my blades for the new kids on the block. Better to save those bucks and invest in a fitness program heavy on gymnastics so I can learn to be the only senior citizen able to do that series of back flips up to the stage that the Chairman’s nephew does on Iron Chef America.

*Chazerai is Yiddish for trash

One Comment on "Samurai Chazerai*"

Joseph Wright

Hilarious, and true. My wife forbids me from entering a knife store these days…I’ve got more blades than a Kurosawa film.



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