Pros: Lighter than original, gorgeous craftsmanship
Cons: Blade depth might be shallow for some users
NewWest Knifeworks Fusionwood Chef 8 2.0
Jim Berman CCI
Life in the kitchen requires undeniable skills. A functional cook should know how to prepare rice in myriad ways, roast a chicken, handle vegetables and sear a piece of fish, for instance. Not surprisingly, to perform each of those functions, there is the need to effectively handle a knife. And, by effective, I mean, the ability to process a significant quantity of product in as little time as possible while balancing quality output. Muscle memory – the habit one develops from repetitive practice, much akin to the baseball player’s ability to make contact between a bat and ball or even the agile dance of fingers across a keyboard – is developed over time and a conscientious focus on practice. That muscle memory partnered with a formidable knife make getting to the squishy middle of cooking that much easier, appealing and, often, worthwhile. So, swing your bat and prance across asdfghjkl to hone those skills. Use a good bat and a keyboard that fits just right.
Some baseball players have exclusive designs to assist with making contact between the ball and multi-million dollar endorsement deals while some use ‘stock’ bats that you and I can buy. While a good knife in the kitchen doesn’t necessarily (and probably won’t) mean that you will have your own line of cooking appliances and olive oils, it does make the application of heat and time a bit more effective. You can have an uber-premium knife made to fit the exact contours of your hand, with the edge beveled to fit the precise angle at which you approach target food items with steel made of unicorn horn, dusted with fairy dandruff and shined with leprechaun spit. But, it does not make your brunoise of carrots any better. There is also something to be said for a quality tool that works as extension of your own hand. A quality knife wears like a comfy pair of jeans, you know the ones; they might have a hole in the pocket, are frayed a bit at the boot-end, but fit just right, the creases land just so and the look is equally predictably comfortable. A quality knife fits you, your cooking style and the work you do in the kitchen; you know how much effort it is going to take to whack on a case of potatoes, where the heel of the blade is going to land under your grip and keeps its edge looking sweet.
Can you break down a chicken with an airport-approved plastic knife? Yup! Rather, the skill is in the hand that wields the tool. Turning a whole bird into eight or ten cuts would be markedly easier and look more like chicken parts rather than raggedy gobbets if the knife employed by the cook was rich with a few key elements. The New West KnifeWorks’ latest menu offering in the Fusionwood line is exactly the desired extension of your own hand, if you were able to sprout high-carbon fingertips and a sweeping blade.
What you look for in a knife and what I look for in a knife may not be exactly the same aspects. You may weigh price. I may rely more on durability. You may shy away from a heavier construct. I may prefer big and angry. We would, however, probably come together over craftsmanship, ability to hold an edge, functionality and may even share a beer over the style and look of a particular tool. I was fortunate enough to receive a New West KnifeWorks 8 to review a few years ago. I am happy to report that my first New West knife is very much still gleefully employed and enjoying daily workouts on the cutting board playground. This v2.0 of the New West 8 is not a ‘re-do’ or ‘fix’ of the original. Instead, the New West 8 is a different tool altogether. So, what’s new? And, more importantly, does it matter?
There are some construction details that make this the light version of its predecessor. Rather than thinking of this as a remake of the original, I am thinking this is a different model. Most noticeable is the width of the blade. There is not the monster’s knuckle width between the colorful veneer handle and the board underneath. This is a choice of style and function; some prefer greater depth, others do not. The heft of the blade is quite different; admittedly not the same conceptual Herculean blade of the previous incarnation, the 2.0 is for the masses – there is a gentle lift in this knife. It is much lighter. The steel for the knife is packed with carbon and, for those that handle knives regularly know, that is the proof that the pudding needs. Crucible Steel Company out of upstate New York is providing the goods for this knife. Without getting all spec’ed out on the steel in the 8, the ‘powder steel’ makes for edge-holding and less worry about brittle steel that can chip or shatter with a counter height’s fall. For comparison’s sake, think of this species from New West as a samurai sword while it’s older brother is a knight’s sword; both have great value to the bearer and both have a role for each kitchen warrior. This is a knife without fear for the wielder.
The shape of the blade makes for an interesting and productive experience. Specifically, the tapered tang is a pioneering approach to knife-holding comfort. While the spine of the knife still boasts plenty of glorious guts for a sturdy pinch, what would be the bolster tapers forward to a fine ground edge. There truly is a comfort in putting this knife through its paces – it feels good to power down onto a case of mushrooms and turn your attention to a mountain of julienne carrots.
Lastly, I am a huge fan of NewWest’s approach to knife handles. And the 8 in v2.0 does exactly what its older brother does – it sits comfortably in my hand with an assuming feel of comfortable work gloves. The blade of a knife can be laser-like, the weight can be anti-gravitational, but if the handle doesn’t feel good, the knife is a dud. This knife is that comfortable glove. The handle looks good, obviously, and the fit is great in my gargantuan hand and, refreshingly, does well in the much more genteel paw of a smaller cook, as well.
Are there more expensive knives? Yes. Are there less expensive species? Of course. So consider this when you consider a New West 8 – a good cook is all about balance. There is a remarkable balance of craftsmanship, functionality and colorful grace in styling with the new Fusionwood entry. Get a good knife and get on with good cooking. This knife dances.