Chef Jim Berman reviews New West Knifeworks Phoenix line of knives by taking "The Chef 8" out for a test run.
I wear sweatshirts until their condition no longer qualifies them as recognizable articles of clothing. My watch is reminiscent of technology one step beyond that of a sundial. The wallet I carry is bordering on antique with contents that wish we really were back in the 20s. So, when I buy something that is so personal, so telltale of myself, so comfortable, I tend to hold on. Replacing those parts is labor. Real work. They are just possessions and I know that; my comfort with the familiar, and all. But, when the time comes, it is not an easy process. It usually takes me close to a year to replace shoes and slightly longer to find a cutting board, Dutch oven or sauté pan. So, you can imagine, buying a knife is a huge ordeal; an epic journey of grand proportions that requires countless hours invested in research, second-guessing and examination second only to the inspection of a Florida voter's ballot during a presidential election.
Knife buying is much like going to the mall with a pack of teenagers on a Friday night. They stop to look at everything that glimmers, shimmers and beeps. They pick up. They put down. They handle. They discuss. They look in the mirror. They move on. They pick up. They put down. And that is how the night goes. For what they are looking, I have no idea. But, until it is just right, they are the chagrin of store managers, one and all. I suppose I am the same when I am in the market for a new knife. Sure, I have boning knives, filet knives and pairing knives from the kitchen places or gifts from somewhere back down the road. But, when it is time for the magnum opus, the chefs knife, that is when the night at the proverbial mall begins. So, I go to the kitchen stores, ask questions, handle tools, say thanks and go to the supply houses and run through the script again. I muddle through the internet, which, when buying a knife, is much like tasting food by reading a menu.
I have had a few knives custom made. They are wonderful pieces of art that are unique. I treasure these beauties. But they are just that – treasures. I work with them, almost daily, but I fear for their safety. I know them and they know me, but I quiver and get nauseous when Sally (my 10" clever) or Lucy (my 9" chef) gets too close to the edge of the table, a novice cooks eyes one of them or if there is a chance for strong thunderstorms. A good workhorse is always an asset in a busy kitchen. My 12" Forschner is an industrial made manifestation of an extension of my hand. It was a gift from my butcher upon the opening of my first restaurant. And 11 years later, it is wearing thin. It is time, with a tear in my eye, to part ways. "Big Bill" has served me well, but it is time that a worthy student learns the feel of a well-used knife, ripe with a decade's worth of hard work.
Enter, the New West KnifeWorks Chef 8. I swear, the first thing that I saw was a handle that said "I am ALL about work!" I have big hands and really prefer a good bit of knuckle clearance when doing heavy knife work. This handle swells back, beyond my grip towards my wrist to provide maximum control: think, choking up on a bat to control your swing. The blade was well hidden by the full-length leather sheath included with the knife. This layer of protection is more functional than most edge protectors that ship with new knives. I may actually use this one rather than relegate it to the bottom of my toolbox.
The Chef 8 is, from its namesake, an 8" blade cradled by a fusionwood handle. New West brings veneer handles to life with layers and layers of vibrant colors. I opted for the "4th of July" with vibrant reds and blues sandwiching the full tange handle, the metal of the blade running the length of the knife. The veneer handle is also ‘meaty.' It is thick and substantive in my hand. This is not grandma's knife! It is not clunky, mind you. It is just right at home in my large paw.
The business end of the knife is what matters. The New West website does the job of explaining the technical pieces that shoppers read – the Swedish origins of the steel, the Japanese bladesmiths' involvement and the Wyoming finishing. But, what matters to me is where the blade meets the board.
It is a beautiful tool and has a heft that is not for the timid. It is gorgeous in my hand, the tail end of the handle peeking out from my palm. Whilst the blade is a substantive 8", the handle goes on for an additional 6". The steel along the spine of the blade means business. Again, this is not grandma's knife. The Chef 8 boasts a thick spine. The absence of a bolster combined with the tapered blade construction is conducive for pinch-gripping, uninhibited by the heartiness of the steel. Rather, the meaty steel is very balanced, not only in girth but by the caress in my hand.
Of course most knives are ridiculously sharp in their virgin state, just off the shelf. So, I am talking about the performance of this knife after about 20 hours of use. I even ran it across a whetstone to determine if I could return the blade to that ridiculously sharp state. I did.
The appearance of knife is ancillary; a nice touch but not everything. So how do you describe the function of a knife? Sharp is sharp. Dull is dull. The Chef 8 kept the edge long after I expected it to lose its grip on precision knife work. It is a work horse. At a very reasonable $149, a good looking horse for your antique wallet, as well. I guess I am set for another decade or more with the Chef 8 in my hand, looking good all the while.