Or a man’s story of seduction and betrayal with Calphalon knives.
Once upon a time I bought a Calphalon santoku (see above) at BB&B. For a long time, it lay in a closet as a kind of backup knife to be used for experiments with grinding or grinding or other kitchen utensils that might come up. Because even though Calphalon was famous for their foreheads – and with good reason, they invented and dominated the advanced non-stick market – I was skeptical that Calphalon knives were anything special. A knife was a knife and a pot was a pot. Different technique.
So one day I actually dug my Calphalon santoku out of its hording site, released it from the packaging, and took it on a test drive. See, even through it lacked the proper pedigree of a knife that was made, for example in Seki City, Japan or Solingen, Germany, it had a good feel. My hand loved the shape of the handle, the balance, the size of the blade. It really felt really comfortable. And I thought, huh, maybe Calphalon knives aren’t too shabby. So I continued to use my santoku and sent it, even before it was completely dulled, out to my favorite grinding service (i.e. Seattle Knife Sharpening) for a thorough renovation. (Below: my santoku handle)
Professional sanding Always a plus
Well, since Seattle Sharpening was what it is (excellent!), My Calphalon santoku came back significantly sharper than the original factory sharpened blade. It had been transformed into a carving monster. Which won it even more in my good grace and made it one of my favorite cutting knives, reserved for tasks like delivering cabbage for slaw or cucumbers for salads. Buuuuuut. . .
. . . because Calphalon was a novice knife marketer and had probably outsourced their production to Lord-know-who, I was still skeptical. Plus, the magazine said, “Made in China,” – China, which did not have a long history of creating high-quality magazines. I knew the odds were thin that the steel could hold an edge as well as a knife constructed by a manufacturer of brands from Germany or Japan. Nevertheless, I was curious how long the edge could last – and so far it held very, very well. This continued for years. *
Bad news is falling down
Then one day, in February 2017, I discovered on the Internet that my sweet Calphalon santoku was on an official to-do list. What? Manufacturing defects had allowed 3,150 Calphalon knives to break – 27 resulting in wounds, four of which required stitches. (Nothing more serious, thank God.) Two million knives were needed to be called back. Pretty embarrassing. Especially for such a large, respected company as Calphalon.
What happened? Well, corporate responsibility is what it is these days, I knew it was not worth bothering to try to get an answer to that question. So I shrugged and signed up online on Calphalon’s knife call page – which I’m thankful was simple and quick – and about three weeks later received my official knife call pack.
Knife recall kit
The recall kit was doozy. It had cardboard knife covers (of course), bubble wrap, a sealable tube for the above bundle, special large round black stickers to hold things together, and finally a good old-fashioned knife box. Oh, and of course detailed, 4-colored instructions on how to properly unpack my knife. I guess Calaphon would be pretty sure there were no more accidents. It made me laugh, though, and if Calphalon had taken as much thought and care with their manufacture as with their recall packaging, they might be in a better situation.
The moral of history
Should we conclude that Calaphon is driven by a band of money-grubbing weasels who thought they could get away with brushing crazy knives to a confident, unsuspecting audience? I do not think so. On the other hand, someone at Calphalon did not do their homework. And they ended up trusting a Chinese manufacturer that was not worth trusting. I’ve heard about Shun knives that tile from being dropped on a tile floor, and about Wusthofs and Henckels getting a tip snapped from being used as a stand-in for a screwdriver. But whole knives snap during use? It’s a new one.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. And Calaphon has done the right thing by remembering two million knives – which is a whole lot of knives. Mine is fair one by them.
Back to our morals. . . for to me there are two timeless truths to be learned from this narrative:
1. Knife making is a serious business. And there is no room for shortcuts. What is required to manufacture good knives is not only quality steel, but quality heat treatment and excellent quality control along the entire production line. There is good reason why some of the largest knife manufacturers have been around for decades, even centuries.
2. Home cooks need to learn how to handle their knives properly. When I think about how most home cooks tend to abuse their knives (sorry friends, I can’t help but observe), I’m surprised we do not hear more stories about broken knife knives. Was I just lucky I did not have any problems with my santoku? Maybe . . . but I do know how to properly care for a kitchen knife. And I will not use it to saw through a frozen baguette or stream through a chicken thigh or another abebiz. In fact, I was very close to not sending my santoku back because of the incredible sharpness of my Seattle-Knives-sharpened blade. It was painful to say goodbye. But I did.
And I’m waiting for a brand new replacement. . . and BTW, what is my current perception of Calphalon knives? Have I forbidden them from having the right to exist? No not really. If you are really sold on Calphalon and can not afford to pay more – buy them. (Here’s mine: Calphalon Contemporary 7 ″ Santoku.) The odds are very thin, the same disaster will hit twice – because it’s assumed that people in Calphalon have learned their lesson.
But I still think there are better made knives around that hold their edges longer. And while they will cost significantly more, they are generally worth the extra moola. See min Best chef’s knives – six recommendations for more details.
* Which is somewhat impressive, except for two warnings: 1) this santoku was just one of many chef’s knives in my kitchen, and 2) it was polished regularly and kept in impeccable shape.