The One Knife Every Home Cook Should Have, According to These French Chefs

published Sep 12, 2021
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Take it from this French culinary school grad: French chefs are serious about proper knife work. In fact, the most important lessons at my alma mater involved mastering the fine art of a proper julienne, macedoine, and brunoise. It’s not just an obsession: Precise knife cuts help to ensure that food cooks evenly. They sometimes even make it taste better, and they result in a pretty-looking dish. 

Knife work isn’t all in the wrist: It really does help to have a high-quality knife that’s comfortable to use. It’s also helpful to have a knife that keeps a sharp blade. Knowing that the French take their chopping, dicing, and mincing very seriously, I asked two French chefs about their favorite knives. They have different cooking styles, so I’ll admit I was very curious about what type they would choose.

I was surprised to learn that they both chose the same type of knife. And I was floored to learn it wasn’t French-made. J’ai une surprise: According to the French chefs I consulted, the best knife for any and all kitchen tasks is a Japanese-style knife. They both named the santoku knife!

Read more: What’s the Difference Between a Chef’s Knife and a Santoku Knife?

The Santoku Knife as an All-Purpose Knife

Japanese santoku knives seem to be just about the only thing chefs agree on — and it’s not just the French. This knife has serious street cred. I’ll even admit that in my first “real” restaurant job, I got laughed out the door for using a big, clunky 9-inch Western-style knife. “Get a santoku, brah,” was the general consensus from my fellow line cooks. (I did, and I’ve loved it ever since!)

Santoku translates to “three virtues,” meaning the knife is equally adept at working with meat, fish, and vegetables. The blade’s profile looks like a gently sloping hill, rather a sharp slant, like Western-style knives. Although Santoku knives are a favorite among pro chefs, it’s actually a great choice for beginners, or anyone nervous around a blade — the curved top keeps your fingers far from danger. And Japanese knives, in general, tend to have stellar edge retention, so you can use them for longer without needing to sharpen them that often. But don’t take my word for it.

“The santoku is amazing for vegetables, chopping, slicing, julienne and brunoise — nothing is too much for this knife. It is very precise and has a good grip on the handle,” Chef Philippe Farinou, the executive chef at Ashford Castle told me.  

Chef Cédric Vongerichten the chef and owner at Wayan is a fan, too. In an email, he said, “For the last eight years or so, I have been using the Masanobu VG-10, for my multi-purpose and everyday knife. It is a high-quality Japanese knife and is my favorite, most-used tool in the kitchen.” 

What makes it so great at, you know, cutting up food? Unlike Western-style knives, it’s proficient at both the vertical “chopping” motion and “choo-choo train-style slicing.” Although it tends to be lighter, thinner, and shorter than most chef’s knives, the santoku is a true workhorse. If you take good care of your santoku (hand-wash it then dry it immediately, store it away from other blades and edges, and sharpen it when necessary), it’ll last for years. You may even find it’s the only knife you use.

3 Santoku Knives to Try

Best for Beginners: Henckels Forged Premio 7-Inch Hollow Edge, $39.99

This knife is made by Zwilling J.A. Henckels — a German, not Japanese maker. But it’s in the traditional santoku style, and the price is attractively low. This is a well-made, solid knife; a great option to take for a test drive and see if the santoku style is a good fit for you.

Best Everyday Knife: Made In 7-Inch Santoku, $99

This knife, by one of our favorite cookware companies, is actually made in France. (Love a plot twist.) The scalloped edges help maintain that sharp edge for precision cuts, and you can choose between two different handle colors. 

Best Upgrade: Shun Premier Blonde 7-Inch Santoku, $149.95

Shun blades are hand-hammered in Japan — the resulting “pebbled” look is extra helpful for releasing food from the blade quickly. (That means cleaner cuts and less drag.) The handle is made from blonde wood for a smooth feel and genuinely lovely look. This is a fancy knife for those looking for a special upgrade.

Do you have a santoku knife? Which one do you have and what do you use it for?