Celebrity chef Michael Symon has made impossible restaurants possible, created a new style of barbecue, and become an Iron Chef; he is also one of the hosts on ABC’s The Chew. Now, Symon is setting his sights on the cutting-edge world of knives, partnering with Ergo Chef to create a new line of high-quality cutlery. Equipped with German high-carbon steel blades and handles from G10 fiberglass resin, the new set includes a nine-inch chef knife, a six-inch chef knife, a six-inch serrated utility knife, a six-inch vegetable cleaver, a three-and-a-half-inch paring knife and a four-piece steak knife set. We asked for his expertise when it comes to wielding the best culinary weapons.
What makes a good knife?
A couple things: I think balance, the quality of the steel and the comfort in the hand.
What makes a knife comfortable in the hand?
It depends on the person a little bit. I don’t know if it’s the 30 years in the kitchen or what, but I have a decent amount of arthritis in my hands. So I wanted to make a handle that was comfortable to me and ergonomically sound. So when you put it in your hand, you don’t have to manipulate your hand when you hold the knife.
What should people be avoiding when they’re looking to buy knives?
They should look for a knife with a full tang, which means it’s one piece of steel from the tip of the knife to the bottom of the handle. You’ll see a lot of knives that are cheap to mid-price point where the steel stops a quarter way through the handle. If you ever really try to get down and chop something, the handle will detach from the blade itself. So they should definitely look for full tang. They should look for a knife that’s balanced, so when you hold it, it’s not super-heavy on the back end or the front end. It should just naturally sit in your hand. Those are the two big ones for me. It’s a good place to start for quality.
Let’s move on to steak knives. Should we be using different knives for different meats?
No, I don’t think so. I think one should cut all. One of my big things with knives, and what inspired my line, is people now, they go and buy this big block of knives, and there are a million different knives in it. Like a tomato-bagel knife, like dedicated to cut something [specific]. It’s silly! A great serrated knife should cut a tomato or bagel just fine. You don’t need a specific knife for that. If you have a great chef knife and a great serrated knife and some nice steak knives for when a group of people come over, for the most part that’s all you need. I like to use the vegetable cleaver because the size of it allows me to move things. Like after I’m done slicing something, I can scoop them up and move them to a pot or a pan or whatever. That’s another [element] that I enjoy using. That’s why I kept the scope of the knives so small: I don’t think you need a million knives. I’d much rather see people buy two or three quality knives as opposed to a block, which is probably going to cost you more than the two or three quality knives. And you’re only going to use two or three knives from the block anyhow.
With the vegetable cleaver, are you only using that to cut vegetables, as the name suggests, or are you using it to cut other things as well?
I use it for vegetables, and not to cut through bones but for cutting through chicken breast or seafood or any kind of raw meat. I don’t use it to, like, bust through a chicken bone. I’d use my chef knife for that.
Are these knives for the more experienced home chef, or can anyone from any level use them?
I’ve been collecting knives my whole life. I literally have chef knives that cost $1,200 to $1,300. Then I have the knives that my parents first bought me when I went to culinary school. So I wanted to make a set of knives that kept the look and the quality and the performance of some of those much higher-end knives at a price point people can get comfortably even if they’re starting off as a cook.
My whole thing is always that you buy a great knife or a great pan or anything of that nature, and it should last you a lifetime. These knives were designed to last people a lifetime and not a year. I think what I’m most excited about is that you can get them for not an arm and a leg. The things you cook with are the things that create the memories, so I hope my knives create a lot of memories.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, and you could only bring one of the knives with you, which would you bring and why?
I’d bring the nine-inch chef knife because I can do everything with that knife. I could slice with it, I could butcher with it, I could kill something with it if I needed to. [Laughs.] I am on a deserted island, so if I need to hunt, I can. It’s sturdy enough to hold up to butchering, and it’s thin enough to cut through vegetables and herbs and things.