The Bread Knife Showdown
The Blade Show in Atlanta, GA put on by Blade Magazine is the largest knife show in the world. Even though I have been making and selling knives for over ten years I never attended the big daddy of them all before. I figured it would be a bunch of rednecks buying knives to stab each other with. Actually, in some ways there was plenty of that but it was also so much more. The highlight by far was seeing all the work by the makers of one of kind hand forged knives. I have traveled the country for ten years doing the countries best Juried Fine Art and Craft Shows and I can say without a doubt that the guys at the upper end of making hand forged knives are at the highest level of skill and craftsmanship of any medium in any art form in the country. They work they do is absolutely incredible.
One reason I wanted to attend the Blade Show is that every year they give awards for the best in many categories like best folding knife or best hunting knife. I started producing my new Super Bread knife this year and I really wanted to see how it would stack up against what else was out there. The awards are given out a banquet on Saturday night. I accidentally stumbled into sitting at the table with the Spyderco Co. I chatted with Sal Glesser and his family and top staff. Really cool. The first knife I ever bought was a Spyderco and I’ve carried one in my pocket pretty much ever since.
Alas, when the award for kitchen knife of the year was handed out they did not call my name. It went to Chris Reeve a true legend in the cutlery world and maker of some of the finest small production folding and fixed blade knives in the world. He brought out a line of kitchen knives for the first time this year. The knives looked pretty cool in the display case but to my expert eye they looked a little suspect in the performance category.
I wasn’t surprised not to win. I actually expected the award would go to Shun/ Kershaw’s new Bob Kramer line of kitchen knives. They had a PR coup de taut with an article in the New Yorker Magazine in November. It being my first time there and being that my colorful handles may be a little to light in the loafers for the stab each other, tactical knife crowd, I was a long shot at best to win.
A quick note on by brothers of the redneck. I grew up with chickens and horses, drove a tractor, wear carharett's, chew Copenhagen, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and whiskey and have been known to get a sunburn on the back of my neck while fishing, so when I slander them, I do it as only a brother can.
After the banquet is some classic drinking in the bar at the Waverly Hotel attached to the convention center. It is known as “the pit” because the bar is sunk into the floor. You will walk by a table and there are 6 guys sitting there with 4 or 5 knives sitting in front of them like the are playing poker for blades. You might also see a guy walking around carrying a sword. Legend has it that as many important knife deals happen in The Pit as at the Blade Show. It is certainly true that you can have drinks with all the legends of the cutlery world in one night.
Well, after a few whiskeys, I started to get a little ornery and started talking some smack about the Kitchen of the Year Award. One thing led to another and I ended up throwing down the gauntlet to Chris Reeve. In true Wyoming Cowboy style, I challenged him to a bread knife showdown at high noon the next day at the blade show. This did take some courage and a few whiskeys. Not only is Chris Reeve a legend in the knife industry but is also a very large, somewhat salty, South African expat with a “special forces” mystic. He took it in the good fun I intended and we had several cocktails to cap off the night. I’m sure he thought it was all bar talk, little did he know I went to bed with a plan.
I awoke the next morning feeling like one of my redneck brothers had actually stuck one of their tactical knives in my head. I needed vindication and a little hangover wasn’t going to slow me down. Chris was waffling a bit in the morning but I knew his pride wouldn’t let him back down. So here is the contest that I pulled together.
Rene’ the Executive Chef from the Waverly Hotel. Complete with chef coat and French accent
Jim Schlender Publisher of Blade Magazine
A Women from the audience who was a self described avid home cook.
Chris Reeves slicer “2009 Blade Show Kitchen Knife of the Year”
Kershaw/ Shun Bob Kramer Bread Knife. This is the latest offering from the Seki, Japan based manufacturing juggernaut. They have dominated the kitchen cutlery market for the last 5 plus years. Certainly the odds on favorite to win.
At the last minute Murray Carter went from being a judge to entering a 7-inch straight edged Santoku shape. Pretty brave since that is a very small knife for a slicing contest. Murray is the most famous maker of one of a kind hand forged traditional Japanese Chef knives in the US. He definitely added another level to the legit factor of the contest.
New West KnifeWorks Super Bread.
As the new guy, I was siked to just be hanging with these boys.
Each judge cut a tomato, a ham, a hard ciabatta bread and a very soft challah bread with each one of the four different knives. They rated how each knife cut each different food on a scale from 1-5. The highest possible score was twenty points per judge for a total of sixty points.
I would say it was equal parts determination and luck that what started out as drunken bar talk turned out to be a pretty legit contest.
Final score was as follows out of a possible 60.
Chris Reeve slicer: 37
Murray Carter Santoku: 42
Kershaw/ Shun Bob Kramer Bread: 50
New West KnifeWorks Super Bread: 55
What can I say? Victory is sweet. Some other highlights were that it was photographed and videoed by Blade Magazine. The Show organizers liked it and want to take it another level next year.
Since I hosted the whole thing in Chris Reeve’s booth, I can’t say enough about what a good sport he was and I am a little nervous about what he may cook up for some payback for next year.