Review: Limited Edition Shun Elite Ken Onion Santoku Knife

17 Sep

Limited Edition Ken Onion

A while ago, I mentioned that I had ordered a present for myself – the limited edition Ken Onion 7 inch Santoku knife. It arrived about a week ago, and I have been using it steadily since. I wanted to get a feel for this knife before writing a review. I have used it every day since it arrived, for just about everything I cook, and it has exceeded my expectations.

I have relatively small hands, and when I cook at home, I usually use 4 – 6 inch utility knives. I love my Chef’s knives but as most of them are Sabatiers, and need to be sharpened and cared for very carefully, I prefer to use journey-man knives on a regular basis. When I came here to the US, I bought an Oxo Good Grips Chef’s knife, and I really liked it. It was light, easy to use, sharp, and flexible.

I remember thinking that I was not sure I could go back to my old knives once I returned home. I must admit though, the chef’s knife was a bit long and unwieldy for me – I managed to get through a huge amount of chopping and cutting, but the 8 inch knife blade, which narrows down to a sharp point, was just a bit too long. The width of the blade made it easy to chop through large onions and butternut easily, but the length lessened my feeling of control. While I liked the rubbery grip of the handle, it was also a bit wide for my hands, and did not feel extremely comfortable. I wondered if there was something that would “fit” me better.

When perusing the tempting pages of Gilt’s sale website, I came across the Shun Santoku knife as part of a set. The santoku is the Japanese version of a chef’s knife, and it is definitely made for smaller hands. The blade is the same width from hilt to tip basically, and its sometimes narrower than a chef’s knife, though this one was about the same width as my Oxo. Its blade edge is also straight – rather than curved for the chef’s knife – so the cutting motion is more of a chop than a rocking pace. Interestingly, the Ken Onion design incorporates a very small curve into the santoku knife, so you can choose slicing, chopping or rocking motions when using the knife.

I went online (thank goodness for the internet says this oldtimer!) and read as much as I could, and watched loads of videos about santoku knives (thank you youtube). Its amazing how much crap is out there, but occaisionally one chances across some solid information. A reader of this blog suggested I watch Martha Stewart on santoku knives, and I found her video online. It was very informative.

One thing I realised was that the “professional” way of holding a knife is very different from the way I have been holding one. That is to say, one holds the knife right at the point where blade meets handle. You need to almost pinch the knife between thumb and third finger, using the pointing finger to guide the knife. I always held my knife with the handle in the palm of my hand, but have now started to try and hold my kitchen knives in this new way… It seems a bit clumsy but once you get used to it, you realise exactly how much more control and strength you have. It makes using a knife very precise.

I have to admit though, the reason I purchased the Limited Edition Shun Elite Ken Onion Santoku (its full name!) is that it is so bloody gorgeous. I mean, this thing is a work of art. Ken Onion is known through the knife world (there is one, apparently) as a first rate artist – he generally makes switchblades and collectors knives. He has been in partnership with Kai knives for a while now, and has looked at making cooking knives from a new point of view. My knife was hand made in Seki City, Japan, the centre of the samurai tradition, and was inspired by old samurai swords.


The santoku has probably the most gorgeous handle I have ever seen in a cooking knife. Made of ebony pakkawood, it has a clever ergonomic design so that your hand fits right in, and rests along its curves as if you were made for each other. The wood is has a dark sheen, and embedded in the pakkawood is a brass and silver emblem reminiscent of a family crest. A brass and red ring join the handle to the blade. The hand forged (rather than stamped from a mold) steel blade is coated with 16 layers of high carbon stainless steel, making the knife impenetrable to rust, very sharp, and extremely hard. It has been shined to a glorious matte finish.

Importantly, this knife is also full tang, which means that the steel of the blade carries on through the entire handle. The ebony pakkawood is fixed onto the steel handle through the emblem rivet. This is a very vital part of any knife – I should know! One of the many scars on my hands is from a knife that detached itself from its handle and decided to chop me instead of the onion! Getting a knife that has a full tang means that it is fully balanced (between blade and handle) and also means that the sharp blade will never detach from the handle and mince you.

This knife is so pretty that the first day I had it, I just took it out of its (cheap paper) sheath to look at, and touch, and admire. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that such an expensive and beautiful knife came with almost no protection, no sheath, no box, no storage. Luckily, I found a wonderful sheath via Cook’s Illustrated’s website (the Victorinox 8- to 10-inch BladeSafe Knife Guard) so at least now I can travel safely with it in my suitcase.

But it was when I started cooking with the santoku that I really noticed a difference. I often have very sore hands after chopping and mincing and slicing for hours on end. My hands feel painful and swollen sometimes. But with the santoku … I was literally looking for more things to chop and mince and slice! And the control! Paper thin slices, tiny dices, minuscule minces. I worked through a huge butternut, thick skin and all in a few minutes. Onions were the work of seconds. Literally. I have used this knife every day, in an infinite variety of ways, and its still sharp, its still as breathtakingly exquisite as when I first set eyes on it, and it has made me into a better cook because I have more confidence, more control, and am more aware of how the food I am cooking is being prepared.

The santoku really made me realise that knives are personal – they are not just a brand or a label, but about how a cook uses them to make the food that she or he is passionate about. This knife fits me. Its as though it was made for my hand. Its a beautiful balance of heavy and light, strength and flexibility. I am so happy I decided to treat myself to this knife because its made the cooking experience even more of a pleasure for me.

Is it the right knife for you? I am not sure. I would certainly suggest going to a cooking shop and trying out knifes – feel their heft, weight and balance. Think about what you are going to use them for – as a vegetarian cook, I am not concerned with bones and skin and cartilage (thank goodness), so my knife is really for fruits and vegetables. This knife is perfect for chopping, mincing, dicing, slicing. It fits my small(ish) hands very well, and feels like a natural extension of me. I love it – and I would highly rate the Shun knives by Kershaw/Kai for their quality, handling, and sharpness – and for their pure lustful beauty!

Enjoy, and good cooking!

In the Hand!

4 Responses to “Review: Limited Edition Shun Elite Ken Onion Santoku Knife”

  1. The Mouse August 23, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Thanks for the review, I’m also thinking of getting the Ken Onion santoku but the cost was a little off-putting. Your review is making me reconsider as a treat to myself. I also prefer the santoku style rather than the European style of chef’s knife. I think I get more use out of the entire blade instead of trying to deal with the curves. Aloha!

    • delectableblog April 30, 2013 at 1:45 am #

      Aloha Mouse. Apologies for such a LATE reply. I have to say – I use that knife every single day – and I even travel with it (in my check in luggage of course). Its superb. Best money I have ever spent. Hope you got it.


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