The Secret Life of Knives
Posted on August 2nd, 2012
The best part about having a lot of meat around is that you get to cut it. Which means you have an excuse to buy, and use, very sharp knives. But sharp isn’t good enough. Any plastic-handled fish knife, of the kind they sell in bait stores, can be sharp if you sharpen it enough. The obsidian hand tools chipped off by proto-humans at the Olduvai gorge two million years ago are plenty sharp, if it comes to that. But of course, once you become enraptured by knives – their curves and cutting edges, the tempering lines running daintily up their steel, their damascus patters and lethal points – sharpness just isn’t enough any more. I found myself thinking about this when in Korin Trading Co. the other day, our knife sponsor, making this hilarious video with owner Saori Kawano. I looked at the knives, and wanted one and bought one. I still don’t know why.
Interestingly, there is almost no overlap between the Knife Cult and the Butcher’s Mystique. Butchers use the crappiest knives they can find – knives provided by a company that takes them away and sharpens them every day or so. They don’t project their souls into them, like sushi masters. If you think about it, the sushi master has reason to make a big deal of his knives. He’s coming from a tradition that made the world’s greatest knives for seven hundred years, using the same methods as those that made the one he holds every day. He holds his history in his hand; not only that, but the knifesmith is a craftsman of similarly high-minded integrity. For him, the knife is a sacred tool; he keeps it with him for his whole career, and sharpens it twice a day, despite the fact that all it did was cut up some fish. (The really good ones never come near bone at all.)
All that said, I can’t seem to find a way to justify, or even really enjoy these magnificent knives. Maybe it’s from an unquenchable sense of unworthiness that pierces my pleasure like a car alarm. What am I doing with a knife like this? What if I break it? Do I use it often enough to justify its existence in my drawer? For years my go-knife was a ten-dollar Chinese cleaver that I never sharpened and barely cleaned. It did everything I needed, felt great in my hand, and I knew that if I left it somewhere I could get another one just like it for the price of a pizza. Now I am responsible for this magic sword that I am afraid to use. And yet I keep buying them.
My father was like this too. He couldn’t help himself. He used to say, “I beat three major addictions in my life, but I can’t stop buying cheap shoes.” I understand what he meant. It’s just too pleasureable to see these knives. Korin is a sponsor; check out the knife that we are awarding to the Grand Champion this year. How can you not want to buy things like this? They make you want to buy whole beef shoulders, just so you can slice them up.