I Worked as a Professional Chef for 7 Years — These Are the 5 Knives I Recommend

published Dec 15, 2021
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There’s a bit of advice that continues to stand out to me the most from culinary school: Always use the right tool for the job. It’s a simple credo but one that, when followed, can help a cook avoid a lot of unnecessary toil. And this is never so true as when it comes to using the proper knife. While a good, sharp chef’s knife can do plenty, there are some tasks where calling in a specialist is more appropriate — a paring knife for hulling strawberries, a serrated knife for a loaf of crusty bread, or a boning knife for removing meat from the bone. 

When I worked as a line cook, I took my knife roll almost everywhere (often absurdly; I was, in fact, never asked to tourné potatoes on vacation, but boy was I prepared). And over those years I honed (ha!) a collection of blades that could accomplish nearly any task. Here are my must-haves.

Paring Knife: Henckels Classic 4-inch Paring Knife

This small wonder is ideal for finer work, whether you’re peeling an apple like a total badass or scoring the surface of a king trumpet mushroom. I like the Henckels Classic 4-inch because it’s small but not too small, and it feels right in my hand, with the kind of sturdiness and heft that gives me confidence. A paring knife should be razor sharp, and this one holds an edge well and sharpens easily on a honing steel.

Serrated Knife: Tojiro Bread Slicer 235mm

For my first cooking job, one of my responsibilities was reducing dozens of crusty loaves of bread to slices that could be put in a basket and given to each table. In the time I worked there, I went through hundreds of loaves of bread and developed a keen appreciation for a good serrated blade. The wavy-bladed serrated knife that came in my school-issued knife kit was OK for a while, but the design led to me scraping my knuckles on the crumb-covered cutting board, which eventually becomes excruciating if you cut enough bread. In the years since, I’ve discovered the Tojiro Bread Slicer — a serrated knife that does the job of dispatching sourdough while feeling light and relatively smooth in my hand. And at $22, you can afford to replace it when the blade eventually begins to dull.

Santoku: Shun DM-0702 Classic 7 inch Santoku Knife

This was the first real knife I ever owned, and it’s still an important member of the team, although I lean more on my Kiwi knife these days. But a true Japanese santoku is a great tool to have, and I swear by the Shun, which has a circular handle that’s just right for my smallish hands. The blade is made with 16 layers of stainless steel, which creates the visually pleasing and arguably beneficial Damascus effect. Some say it makes the knife faster, but either way, it certainly makes it more beautiful. This was the knife I used for practicing knife skills and dismantling piles of prep work — a trusted workhorse. 

Boning Knife: Victorinox Fibrox Pro Boning Knife

For fabricating proteins and breaking down fish, you’ll need a thin, flexible boning knife. And ringing up around $34, the Victorinox Fibrox Pro Boning Knife is a great deal. One of the most important parts of a boning knife is the handle; your hands may be a bit messy and cold from their proximity to the meat or fish you’re working with, so a sturdy, nonslip handle is essential. I slide this along a honing steel before every use to make sure it’s at peak sharpness before starting any task.

Worth a Splurge: Miyabi Birchwood 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

This is part chef’s knife and part work of art, and if you own it, by all means, install a magnetic knife strip in a prominent location, so that you can share it with the world. I tend to err on the side of frugality when it comes to my knives, but this specimen of high-quality Japanese steel is worth the investment. The solid birch handle and layered steel blade feel weighty, giving you just a hint of power behind each slice. If you’re heading to stage at a Michelin-starred restaurant or looking for a tool for your home kitchen that will stand the test of time, this is the knife you’re looking for.

What are some of your favorite knives? Tell us in the comments below!