Christmas gift ideas: best kitchen knives for home cooks and chefs

by on November 24, 2010

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Trying to find great gift ideas for home cooks or burgeoning chefs? Chef Todd Knoll recommends three very different–and equally useful–kitchen knives this holiday season.

When Chef Knoll suggested doing a video to talk about his favorite must-have knives, I was thrilled to learn more about knife anatomy, types, construction and uses. My favorite Christmas gift of all time is a set of MAC knives my husband bought me when I’d just begun getting serious about home cooking. Chopping instantly went from being a forced chore to a relaxation technique. I love these two knives so much, I’ve been known to bring them on vacation. And in the words of Anthony Bourdain, “I’m hungry for more.”

Overall, Chef Knoll prefers stainless steel knives to high carbon steel due to maintenance. Influenced by Asian cooking while growing up in Hawaii, he has an affinity for all things Japanese and Chinese, including knives. There are several key differences between traditional Western and Japanese knives when making a purchase, such as hardness, weight, sharpening maintenance, bolster and lifespan — generally speaking. (It comes down to personal preference.) Here’s a list of his three favorite knives:

Chef Todd Knoll’s Recommended Knives:

  • Chef’s knife: If Chef Knoll could only have one knife, it would be a chef’s knife, known as “Gyutou” or “Santoku” in Japanese, depending on style. This knife slices, chops, minces–you name it. His favorite purveyor is Korin, founded by Saori Kawano. Korin sells the Nenohi Nenox G-type Gyutou in 8.2 and 10.5 inch ($233-$311) but more affordable models are available from $70. Korin has a wide selection of chef’s knives of high quality, including recommendations for home chefs, and also employs a knife master for sharpening services. If you want to really splurge and wow your loved one, buy a stunning chef’s knife you personally selected direct from the source in Japan at
  • Paring knife: Also designed to be all-purpose like a chef’s knife but smaller. The Japanese style is known as a petty knife, and is ideal for peeling and coring. Prices online range from $5 to $200, but it’s best to spend somewhere in between. Korin sells the Ittosai Stainless Steel Petty Knife in 5.9 inch for $100 but a broad selection is available beginning at $50. Korin also sells two-knife gift box sets including a chef’s knife and a paring knife.
  • Cleaver: The third knife on Chef Knoll’s must-have list is a Chinese-style cleaver by Misono. Not to be confused with a Chinese chef’s knife (which has a similar rectangular shape), the Chinese cleaver has myriad uses demonstrated in the above video. US-based Dexter-Russell is a solid manufacturer of Chinese cleavers and its 8 inch is a great value at $45 on

I hope my husband or mother reads this post, because I really want a Dexter cleaver in my stocking this year.