Knives for the novice, the gourmet and the pro

In the cutlery world this holiday season, there's something for everyone, from the gourmet to the cooking novice.

Hollow-edged, all-purpose santoku knives, available in a variety of brands, are still very popular, says KC Lapiana, owner of In the Kitchen, a Strip District kitchen store with a 12-by-8-foot knife display case.

"It's very impressive," she says. "It's the largest knife case in Pittsburgh."

Santoku, which means "three virtues," is good for chopping, dicing and mincing, among other duties.

In the Kitchen, which caters to professional chefs as well as home cooks, sells 13 different lines of knives, with exclusive rights to sell Viking, Victorinox (a Swiss Army brand), Culinary Institute of America, Miyabi and Bunmei products in Pittsburgh.

New lines from famed German knifemakers include Wüsthof's Ikon line (individual knives starting as low as $60 to upward of $2,000 for some block sets) and Zwilling J.A. Henckels' Miyabi line (individual knives as low as $80 to upward of $500 for some block sets).

Professional chefs also absolutely love Kershaw's Shun knives, with various santoku models alone ranging from $25 to $250, with some Shun block sets costing upward of $2,000.

"They save up for them and they're phenomenally made," she said. "They're absolutely coveted."

Henckels also has a line of Twin Identity knives with engravable handles, $82 to about $200.

Given the popularity of santoku knives, there now are electric knife sharpeners designed specifically for Asian-style knives, which require sharpening at a 15-degree angle instead of the 20-degree angle required for German-made knives, Ms. Lapiana said.

Master bladesmith Bob Kramer creates exquisite and utilitarian handmade kitchen knives that cost thousands of dollars and have a three-year waiting list.

Now, Mr. Kramer -- one of only 100 people in the world certified as a master bladesmith -- has joined with Kershaw, the makers of Shun knives, and Sur la Table to create the commercial line, Shun Bob Kramer, a more affordable version of his custom designs.

Offered exclusively at Sur la Table stores, the line features pattern-welded nickel Damascus steel and gently rounded, red-and-black Pakkawood handles that mirror the curve of the palm, said Jacob Maurer, cutlery buyer for the Seattle-based Sur la Table.

The seven-piece block set, which costs about $1,500, includes an 8-inch chef's knife, 10-inch bread knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 4 3/4-inch utility knife, 3 1/4-inch paring knife, honing steel and easel-style bamboo wood block. The knives also are available separately, ranging in price from about $150 for the paring knife to $340 for the chef's knife.

"This is the ultimate gift for the knife lover," Mr. Maurer said.

Wüsthof's "Wave" knife, similar to a santoku but wider with a scalloped, wavy edge rather than a more severely serrated edge, also is popular. It costs about $100 and comes with a bamboo cutting board.

Want to know even more about knives? This year, Sur la Table published "Knives Cooks Love" by Sarah Jay ($19.95). The book, which includes recipes, offers tips on selecting and caring for knives and using knife techniques.

"A knife is an absolutely fabulous gift," Mr. Maurer said, "something people will use every day and think of you every day and something that will last a lifetime if you know how to use it."

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L.A. Johnson can be reached at or 412-263-3903.


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