Some knives refuse to become sharp, whatever one does to them. One day, I was frantically trying to get a new over-long boning knife in trim, which was made of some especially rubbery steel that just didn’t react to grinding at all. When it eventually did, it had developed a micro-serrated, messy edge that would perhaps cut through half-decomposed gravlax, but little besides. A middle-aged member of the extended family was watching me, glasses flashing dispprovingly in the sunlight (sorry, I made this up. I needed some sun here at my desk, in early February, in Sweden). “You know, you really have a knife fetish of some sort,” he said eventually.
There are excuses for that kind of statement. An over-long boning knife looks terrifying, even if its edge is as blunt as a brick. There were other knives in the knife block: this non-cooker couldn’t be expected to appreciate the need for a new one. The person speaking might also have been oblivious of some further reaching implications of his words, regarding my private desires (nothing to report here). Also, I was really getting quite mad at the knife in question and my sharpening efforts might have looked a little wild.
Still, a reasonably controlled occupation with kitchen knives is not more special than one’s desire to keep one’s toothbrush in a clean state or one’s pencils in working order or to prefer unused q-tips. A daily-used tool – why would we not be interested in finding a nice one and in keeping it in trim?
Questing for good knives is about as much work as finding better coffee, or a better espresso machine, or better butter: we know that the desired thing is somewhere out there, but we can’t quite reach it no matter how hard we try. As the now long-retired blunt boning knife taught me, there are no shortcuts. Buy a mid-price knife from a big brand and you end up cheated anyway. The only way of getting good knives cheap is at good, big antique markets (at least in the States), or by stealing.
For a while, Robin was living in a shared appartment with a shared kitchen. Everyone had her or his own corner in that kitchen and it was known what items belonged to whom. Then the landlady, nay, landgirl, threw a party and after that party, Robin’s 10 inch Wüsthof knife was gone. Follows a row. “Do you really accuse my guests of stealing?” (well, in fact…) “You can buy a knife like that at the flea market again…” (nope, you can’t). No recompensation, or even any hint of recognition of what really had happened. What had happened proves that, amazingly, some people out there still do know how a good knife looks like.
(I recently bought her a new one)