Thursday, November 20, 2008

When a Knife is More Than Just a Knife

Anh was brimming with pride when she sent us an email telling us her husband's article was in the current issue of the New Yorker (the food issue, none the less). I knew Todd had been working on this for a LONG time and was very passionate about his subject, Bob Kramer. "Who's Bob Kramer?", you might ask (as I did). Well, I'll give you a brief preview.

Bob Kramer, living now in Olympia, Washington, is a Master Bladesmith. No small feet, he earned his title by forging a knife that cuts through an inch-thick piece of rope in a single swipe, chops through a 2x4, cuts a swath of arm hair (after cutting the rope and wood!), and then, locked in a vise, permanently bends to 90 degrees. The account of the grueling test he went through is in the article. I feel for him but, ugh, the poor knife! After you read Todd's thorough and fascinating description of how these knives are made, you'll empathize too.

Bob makes only 5 knives a week while most knife factories make at least 5 each hour. He painstakingly perfects each one, earning them a price tag upwards of $475. Thomas Keller and Charlie Palmer approve. Even Cook's Illustrated said his knife, when they tested it, was absolutely worth the money. Sadly, when I went to Bob's site, it says his order list is currently full.

The good news is Kramer has now worked with the Shun knife factory in Japan to create a line of more accessible commercial knives that are available at Sur la Table. I don't have the down-low on them yet but, can't wait to go try one out. They still run upwards of $300 but, a knife like this, when well taken care of, should last you a life time.

The article is well researched, completely engrossing, and full of amazing tidbits. In San Francisco I take my knives to Columbus Cutlery on Columbus and Vallejo whenever they need to be sharpened. Turns out Bob Kramer learned the 'nuances of the proper grind', even lubricating the wheel with lard, at the same spot. Bob, a former chef himself, said he turned to knife making when he decided he 'wanted to make something that lasted longer than a meal'.

A link to the article is here but to read the whole thing online you need to subscribe to the New Yorker's online edition. Just get off your chair and go buy the magazine. I haven't read the rest of it yet but am sure that Todd's article, and what ever Calvin Trillin wrote about Texas BBQ will be well worth your $4.99.

Nice work Todd!

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