Friday, July 9, 2010

The knife front

Several weeks agao, I spent the weekend working on a comprehensive reorging my Kitchen. Saturday was spent at Ikea. On Sunday, I spent some time between 2:30pm and 4:00pm with my local CutCo representative. As I mentioned, I was interested in aquiring a cheese knife, and having a look at the "famous" Cutco brand.

It was quite an eye opener. I began with the hypothesis that the Cutco Santoku style cheese knife would be the victor in this contest, and might get the other one in the two-piece set. It didn't work out that way. I also had some curiosity and qualms about the nature of Vector Marketing.

I arrived at the Cutco office with a bag full of radishes, ruddabegas, turnips. I also had three types of cheese: super sharp vermont chetter, semi-soft habenero pepper jack, and ultra-hard 5 year old Gouda. The new Santoku style cheese knife did do a basic job of cutting these three cheeses, but much more physical effort was required than I suspected. My right thumb started to tire. That is not typical of me. I don't fatigue easily. On the other hand, the classic Cutco Cheese knife just killed the task. Using their classic cheese knife on any of the three types I brought to the test was like watch the proverbial hot-knife go through butter. Little effort was required, and no fatgue was felt.

Unfortunately, the new Santoku cheese knife failed the test. I didn't buy one. Rather, I bought the classic cheese knife. The classic passed with flying colors.

Now on to the vegetable test! I brought both my Wusthof Santoku and my Shun Gokujo to the Cutco test for comparison purposes. This did not alarm the Cutco rep at all. The kid was not bothered at all. He was glad to see I had expensive tast in kitchen cutlery. He wanted to test-drive both of my knifes. He particularly liked the Wusthof. In the meanwhile I got to work on the hard veggies with the Cutco Santoku, Vegtable Clever, and the French Chef's knife. I intermittantly switched back and forth to the Wusthof to compare on the same materials.

I have to tell you, I very impressed by the Cutco knives. The French Chef's knife is extremely effective, and very comfortable to use. It chopped up the Raddishes, Rudabegas and turnips with ease. However, the Nakiri vegetable clever was the real surprise story here.

The Cutco Nakiri was the best I have ever tried, and I own the Kyocera Revolution Nakiri. That Kyocera is no mean piece of equipment. I've tried several others, including the much-vaunted Shun Classic. My chief complaint about these Nakiris is that they aren't big enough or weighty enough to be hepful with big nasty 2 pound turnip. [Shun makes a Chinese Chef's knife which should be the ultimate in this regard.] The Cutco unit is the biggest and heaviest I've ever seen. I would call it a meat cleaver, except for the fact that the blade is too thin. Under my careful guidance, the Cutco Nakiri minced the big turnip pretty quick, and without a lot of sweat.

Regrettably, I was not pleased by the performance of the Cutco Santoku. I have both a Kyocera Revolution Santoku and a Wusthof Classic Ikon. This is my favorite category of knife. I know it well. The Cutco Santoku was quite underwhelming. Both the Cutco French Chef and the Nakiri ran circles around the Cutco Santoku. So did my Wusthof Sanoku.

It looks like Cutco is just now learning how to make Santokus for the first time. The 1.0 edition is not so good. It's like a Microsoft 1.0 edition, which is more like a public beta trial. If you folks at Cutco will contact me, I would be more than happy to give you some serious pointers and helpful feedback. I believe your design should be revisited. There is some work to do here.

In the end, I was impressed enough to buy the French Chef, the Nakiri vegtable clever, the classic cheese knife and the peeler. All four of those items are high-performance knives. I left both the Santoku and the Santoku cheese knife on the table. They didn't impress me much.

I walked away from the Cutco office stunned. I did not walk in the door with plans to purchase $300 woth of cutlery. The young rep didn't do a lot of selling. He just invited me to try various blades on the good stuff I brought to the test. Very soft-sell approach there. As he said when we walked out the door "It's like selling Honda; these knives sell themselves." Indeed, there was nothing he said that convinced me. After trying the Cheese, Nakiri and French Chefs, I just didn't want to walk out the door without them.

I reflected on several findings as I drove home:
  1. It is nice to know that American goods have not been completely expelled from the Kitchen Cutlery market. It's good to know we can compete.
  2. I am surprised I never see any of these knives in the hands of celebrity chefs
  3. I am surprised that these knives never get much word of mouth on the gourmet forums.
  4. The product could be improved a great deal if they would introduce a synthetic non-slip grip with a big-back bolster.
  5. I miss my kullens. I think kullens are cool.
My knives arrived more than a week ago, and I have been leaning on them heavily, trying to discover if the famous Cutco brand is worth it or not. I have to nod my head in a approval and give them the thumbs up. The French Chef's knife and the Vegetable cleaver make minced meat out of everything. They are big, heavy, and sharper than hell. Nice balance also. I cut Tagliatelle last night with the cleaver. That was some of the cleanest Tagliatelle noodle I have ever cut.

At the moment, I can say that Cutco is performing right on par with Wusthof's Classic Ikon and the Shun Elite knife I have. Cutco fits into the new collection just fine. I am satisfied that it is now safe to send all my Kyocera's back to Japan for re-sharpening. I should be able to do just fine until they return.

Above all, I am surprised at the rankled and venomous comments I read out there on the web about Cutco. In every cullenary forum on the web, there always seems to be 1 or 2 unsophisticated home cooks who are perfectly happy with their Cutco knives. Over and against that are a few angry critics who complain that they were duped into buying cheap stainless steel, or sold a lot of outrageously over-priced knives to unsuspecting cutomers.