"Profile" is a term which gets used a lot when talking about knives. The words "French" and "German" are often bandied about when discussing Chef's knives/gyutos.
What and why?
One of your primary interactions with a chef's knife is determined by the shape of the edge (as viewed from that angle). If you don't fight the knife, will go a long way towards controlling how you use the knife and how it feels in your hand as you work. If you do fight the knife and try to work it in a way which doesn't suit it, that will determine how it feels as well.
The better your grip and knife skills, the more sensitive you're going to be the knife.
The good Sabatiers -- Including but not limited to everything form Thiers-Issard, K-Sabatier, and Mexceur Et Cie -- have a an almost uniquely good blade profile. Not just in the sense that I love it, but nearly everyone else does as well. Profile isn't everything and I'm not suggesting you run out and buy a bunch of Sabs.
Chef's knife profiles come in two basic flavors. French and German. German profiles have more arc (aka "belly") throughout the length of the edge, while French blades are flatter -- at least from the very back (heel) until the rise toward the tip. People often confuse the "width" or "height" of knife (distance from heel to spine, at the handle) with belly and profile. They think a wide knife has a lot of belly, or is German, or both. Belly is arc. "French" and "German" refer to how much and how the arc is distributed.
Here's a Wusthof Ikon, a German made and distinctly -- though not extreme -- German profile chef's knife:
Even though it's 9" long and fairly streamlined as Wusthofs go, it's still got plenty of belly.
Here's another German, this time an 8" Henckels Pro S:
Like the Ikon, it also has quite a bit of belly and yet is also on the straighter side of the envelope as German knives go. In fact, KY Heirloomer, who knows his onions said it actually was "French."
Note: The point isn't who's right and wrong. "French" and "German" are relative terms, at least as far as knives go. KY and I agree that a Henckels Pro S Chef's knife feels a lot more French than a Wusthof Classic (not shown), and we should because it does.
Compare the German made knives to a couple of Sabatiers chef's:
(Pardon me for using this photograph again. It's hard to find pictures which do a fair job of showing the profile; at least this does that.)
Top to bottom, the knives are:
- 10" K-Sabatier Chef's
- 10" K-Sabatier trenchelard Slicer.
- 7" T-I "Nogent" Sabatier Chef's
- 6" T-I "Nogent" Sabatier Slicer / Petty
Look at the two chef's knives. A profile doesn't get any more French than the 10" K-Sab. Note that even though the 7" Nogent is shorter than the two Germans pictured above -- its curves are accentuated by being compressed into a shorter package -- it still appears flatter than either the Ikon or the Pro S.
And, as long as that particular picture is up, note that the difference between a slicer and a chef's knife is "profile." That is, they're all knives, have similar handles, same alloy, etc., but the distinction is shape. Not just different in width, either. But even though the slicers are straighter than the chef's knives, a French chef's knife is almost as straight as a slicer
It's also worth pointing out that the 6" knife is sold as a slicer by The Best Things, but the shape is not only trenchelard (French, spear-point, style slicer, just like the 10" K-Sab), but couteau office (the French name for a common paring knife). It's being sold as a slicer instead of a parer because of its length. I actually use it as a "petty," which is a sort of parer / boning / utility; a knife of many slashes. A petty is a true office, and the modern trend as THE short knife in a pro's abbreviated kit.
One of the things which makes Japanese gyutos so attractive to good cutters is that most of them have a more or less French profile. Some very good cutters prefer German profiled chef's knives; but the French profile is more agile, more adapatable to "push cutting," and requires less handle pumping (usually called "rocking). The French profile punishes bad technique and rewards good technique more than the German.
But... let's keep our senses of perspective and humor. A German knife won't turn a good cutter into a bad one, and a French knife won't do the opposite. Both profiles suit the classic, European and American styles of food and knife skills. It comes down to taste and training.
Go French with a gyuto.
PS. This is posted on Cook Food Good as well. Collective Commons Reservation of Rights and all that. If you want to share it for a non-profit purpose by re-posting, linking, or passing it out to your students, attribute it to me, Boar D. Laze. If you want to change it or sell it... Sorry. No.
Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/15/10 at 11:30am