Have you had your knives sharpened at the Whole Foods on 3rd and 3rd yet? ‘Cause it’s serious! I had been putting off getting my knives sharpened for far too long. I finally made the effort to wrap up my Globals and bring them on the weekly pilgrimage to Whole Foods. When I arrived at the knife station, a wisp of a man, the color of straw, with blackened fingertips gently unraveled my dull knives and examined them, quite like an archeologist, under his magnifying light. This Viking’s name was Christopher Harth of NY Cutlery, and he instantly recognized that my Global knives were from older vintage and thus made from better steel than the new ones, possibly Valyrian Steel. He claimed to have seen many a broken tip on the newer Globals because of the lower grade steel apparently in use today. It was then that I knew, there were no secrets I could keep from this man and his magnifying glass. He examined the bands of stratum on my knives, exposing their history and my crime. “You’ve had these knives sharpened by a man in a little truck,” Harth calmly stated. I was stunned. I asked, “Is it serious?” He replied, “Driving around in a cute little truck is one thing, but you don’t sharpen thousand dollar knives on a fifty dollar stone.” I silently wondered, “Did I spend a thousand dollars on these knives?” Then he asked, “How would you like me to grind? Left, Right, or Ambidextrous?” I’ll be honest. I was flattered, but that was too forward, and at mid-day, in the grocery store of all places. All I could do was blush.
However, none of that is true. Actually, all of it is true, except for one significant detail. Yes, Harth is a Viking. He is originally from Minnesota, half Swedish, half Norwegian and can trace his family history back to 900 A.D. Yes, my knives were damaged by a cute little truck and Harth knew it. Yes, my knives are made of Valyrian Steel. No, he never uttered the word “grind” because this Viking doesn’t grind knives. That’s the business of the cute little truck. Grinding is for taking off the bulk. It tears into the knife like a glacier, creating crevices in the steel, which make it impossible to slice smoothly. What Harth does is sharpen and hone. I have no idea what honing is, but it has to be some sexy stuff because he could only explain it by gently blowing on his knife and caressing it. Well, getting back to business, I always go righty and directed Harth to sharpen my blades thusly. He explained, the ratio of the bevel corresponds to the user’s dominant side. One would only want equal bevel on both sides, a.k.a. ambidextrous, if the knife was only intended to chop big cubes. Slicing would be impossible with an ambidextrous knife, as each slice would have a big curve.
At this point, our conversation veered through a brief history of man and tools, followed by an overview of modern manufacturing processes. Traditionally, chef’s had their knives custom made for them by a cutler and therefore Japanese knives, like my Globals, are made for a very different type of cuisine than a French chef’s knives. The light-weight Globals are made for delicate cuts, think sushi. They are not for dealing with raw root vegetables, bones or roasts. Christopher Harth is a toolmaker carrying on a pre-historic tradition that became cutlery. This tradition dictates that knives should suit the individual and the specific geography of where they are cooking. When he creates a knife for someone, Harth will measure the client’s hand to ensure comfort and balance. He wants the knife to inspire confidence in the user, stating, “The tip of the blade should feel like the tip of the appendage.”
Each knife takes 20 hours to create. Harth will only EVER be making 1,000 knives and is approaching the 700 mark. When he reaches 700, Harth will quietly announce the milestone and auction off the last 300 knives. At that point, he will abandon knife making altogether and move on to something else. Sharpening at Whole Foods serves him as market research to understand the myriad of knife brands out there and the flaws inherent in their design. Repairing them informs Harth’s work as a knife maker.
One half of an hour, a great discussion, and $16 later I had three shiny, perfectly sharpened knives. I don’t know if they were honed. I didn’t want to embarrass Christopher or my knives. I was just happy to exit Whole Foods with my newly sharpened Valyrian Steels, ready to do battle with the White Walkers of Gowanus. If you have some knives that have seen a bad grinding on a cute little truck, I’d recommend seeing Christopher Harth of NY Cutlery at Whole Foods sooner than later because 1,000 knives is right around the corner. Actually, if you do the math, you do have some time, but why struggle on a dull blade?! Put your steels on the wheel and have them rehabilitated by a master!