Tag Archives: knife

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!

More Cooking Obsessions

7 Sep

So here I sit, eating the last of the vegan chocolate cake (man, it was good), full as a tick after a phenomenally good veggie burger from BGR The Burger Joint. Their veggie burger is sooo delicious – black beans, oats, rice, molasses, with a smokey BBQ flavour, slathered in mojo sauce, roasted onions, fresh ripe tomatoes, lettuce, on a toasted brioche bun. Their fries are amongst the best I have ever had – I cant decide between the Yukon Golds or the sweet potato fries. And dont even get me started on the vanilla bean shake … pure sin. Creamy, flecked with vanilla bean, so thick it takes effort to get the good stuff. Full I am, full full full.

So obviously, I didnt do a lot of cooking today! I just ate, and ate very well. And that got me started thinking about some more of my cooking obsessions. I have written before about some of the things that I cannot do without, and I have remembered several other bits and pieces which I really adore. These are the things I take for granted in my kitchen, but which I could not do without. They make my daily life as a cook so much better.

Chef's Mat

I never think about it because its always there, but my GelPro Chef’s Mat is something I absolutely could not do without. This piece of kitchen equipment is used every day, and here in the US where I dont have one, I feel the difference. This mat is used in the most heavily trafficked areas of the kitchen – where I stand and chop vegetables, in front of the stove when I am cooking for ages. Its a very simple concept – a thick mat, filled with gel, that completely alleviates any fatigue associated with standing and cooking for long periods of time. This mat is so comfortable, easy to clean (simply wipe off any spills or stickies) and if anything sharp (like a knife) drops, then its cushioned and wont chop or cut floor or feet.

I love my mat. Its meant to stop foot, lower back and arthritic pain when cooking or standing for long periods of time. Its truly amazing. Its quite expensive, and for a long time, I really wondered if it was worth it to get one. But I did because I am sucker for new and interesting things, and I have never regretted it. Its quite beautiful in its simplicity, but its very well made, with anti microbial additives, so it never gets moldy even if its left without being cleaned for a while.

If I had to give a cook a present that they would not give themselves, this is what I would get them. I cannot tell you how fantastic cooking on this surface is – pure absolute pleasure. It makes standing over a hot stove for hours on end, or chopping a mountain of vegetables over the sink, totally easy. And it does it without me even remembering its there!

Magnetic Clips

When I cook, I often print out a recipe I have already written, and I need a place to put it so I can refer back to it as I mix and chop and saute and bake. Magnet clips, which are attached to my fridge, do the trick. I love the Endo Magnet Clip because it can hold up to 20 pages of writing. I usually have a pencil handy too so that I can notate and adjust recipes as I cook them. These clips are used constantly in my house.

Not only do they hold recipes, but I clip my shopping lists to them, important notes to my housekeeper, emergency contact numbers, calendars. Again, this is something that I never really thought about, but which makes my kitchen more efficient, and helps me do the work I need to do. I wouldnt be without them.

Magnet Hooks

And may be even more than I love the magnet clips, I love love love these magnet hooks that cover a whole lot of space on my fridge. As I have written in an earlier post, my kitchen is teeny tiny. I need to be able to access stuff quickly, but I also need to be able to store it nicely too! I like having things to hand … and because its my kitchen, and I know my own patterns and rhythms, I know that certain things, I want to be able to grab without opening a drawer or looking around for it.

These gorgeous magnetic hooks from ThreeByThree are wonderful. I use them to hang my oven mitts, my cooking aprons, dish towels, certain utensils, and for the big huge strong ones, even a fry pan or two. Seriously. They are amazing. They come in great colours, and are really strong. Useful beyond measure.

French OvenI have many, many pots and pans. I have different ones for different things, and of course, I love to collect them. I have a few copper pans that I have saved up slowly to purchase, but I have to say, my Le Creuset oval French Oven is probably one of my favourites. I found this pan at a Filene’s Basement store in NYC, for USD99, and I carried it home to Malaysia on my lap in the airplane (long ago, when you could bring things like a heavy cast iron pot onto the plane!).

Since then, many moons ago, I have used this pot for everything under the sun. You can bake brilliant bread in it, its wonderful for soups and stews, South African potjiekos, gratins and any manner of pasta. I have used it to bake a cake, and a tart when I didnt have the proper cake pans. Because it goes from stove top to oven with effortless ease, its the perfect multidimensional cooking vessel. Because its made of cast iron, the way it conducts heat is brilliant – even and strong, with no burning spots. I love this pot, and if I had to choose just one, I would probably choose this one.

Frying Pan

But I am very lucky, because I dont have to choose just one! My other favourite pan is my Green Pan. I use it all the time, every day, for just about everything. When I was renovating my kitchen and house, I was very aware of trying to be as ecologically friendly and sensitive as I possibly could. I read that non-stick pans were being reevaluated for their health and safety functions, and so I started doing some research.

I invested in several pans – a cast iron pan, which I love, but which is heavy and can be a bit unwieldy. I also bought a Green Pan, and I instantly fell in love. This is a GREAT non-stick pan – easy to use, very light, and yet incredibly functional. My Green Pan is the pan I reach for when sauteeing, frying, grilling cheese sandwiches, making pasta sauces, just about anything. It uses PTFE free Thermalon (dont ask me, I have no idea what it really is) technology which seems to be less scratch resistant and more sturdy than my other non stick pans. I use less oil and butter, and the heat conductivity is superb. Cooking with this pan makes me happy.for the oven!

One of the most annoying things about having an old oven is that temperatures can be so incredibly unreliable. For this reason, I really adore my Oxo Oven thermometer. It hangs on the oven rack and shows me temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. Sometimes when you bake, a few degrees can make a huge difference between burned cookies and cakes or ones that turn out perfectly. Since I dont have the luxury of (or the money for) professional baking ovens, this oven thermometer which only costs USD15, ensures that I get as close to perfect as possible. I bake so much at home that I could not do without it! I love Oxo for all their kitchen stuff – beautifully designed, well thought out, useful and user friendly. Their salad spinner is the stuff of legend, their knives are sharp, comfortable in the hand and powerful, and their storage containers are awesome. But this simple thermometer is useful beyond words.


And finally, an indulgence. I told you that I was totally obsessional about knives. Well, I was perusing a sample sale online, and I found this set of Ken Onion limited edition Shun knives. A paring knife, and this 7″ high carbon stainless steel Santoku knife. Look at that handle, imagine how it will fit snugly in the hand. Check out the blade… its so beautiful I could cry. It was so expensive, even on sale, that I almost did cry, but its my gift to myself for this trip. I cant wait to get them, and will write about them as soon as I have used them well enough to know how they feel in the hand… I was just so excited, I had to share them!

Favourite Things

6 Jul

These are some of my favourite things…

Most cooks I know have obsessions –  a particular brand of balsamico or olive oil, certain types of knives, particular tools that they adore, cookbooks. I must admit, I have them all. Cooking enables me to enjoy spoiling myself with things that are “useful” … and buy ingredients which I can share with others and make into delicious dishes.

I love going to grocery stores in new countries I visit – and hardware stores, in the cooking section – and see what gadgets or tools or special ingredients that are local to that place. They are the best things to bring home, because they ensure I have a sensual reminder of the place and space I have visited. Small pleasures, but they are the most important.

I have some things which have never left me, and which go along with me in my travels. I have lugged cookbooks on two week trips to friends, and have packed my favourite knife in my carry on luggage.

I thought that every now and then I would share a few of my favourite things with you because these special items are part of what defines my cooking philosophy.

My favourite cookbook of all time. The Frog Commissary Cookbook by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller, has inspired me for over 20 years. I first got it when I was in university, and its simple, clear writing style, and easy to follow recipes inspired me to cook with passion and creativity. Steven Poses had one of the first modern restaurants in Philadelphia, the Frog Commissary, and is a contemporary of Alice Waters from Chez Panisse on the West Coast. His food is not quite as local/natural as hers is, but it is delicious, divine, delectable.

Though I never got to go to the Frog Commissary, I have had this book since university days. Steven Poses now runs Frog Commissary Catering in Philadelphia, and has cooked for more than 15 million guests. When I first read this cookbook, I fell in love with its unique clever take on food.  Their ideas were so varied, their influences so wide ranging, and their ability to combine different ingredients into a magical special meal made me an instant fan. But it was the absolute specificity of the recipes, and the fact that you could try one and know it would come out perfectly, that had me for life.

I think I have gone through about six or seven copies of this book. I use each copy until it falls apart. For a while there, it was out of print, and I used to buy them wherever I found them (on ebay, 2nd hand bookstores) and hoard them like precious gold. My favourite recipes are either adapted from or inspired by the recipes in this book, and I never ever tire of reading their ideas and inspiration. The food here is very international, vegetarian friendly, and inspired.

I collect cookbooks and always have a couple at my bedside table to page through at night. However, if I had to pick just one cookbook to dream from, be inspired from, and cook from – this would be it.

I collect chef’s knives. I love the different types of knives and different brands – I read about the different approaches to shaping and creating a knife with respect to the art form that this truly is. When I finally had the money and the desire to start collecting my own knives, there was only one knife I wanted – a Sabatier. These knives are handmade in Thiers, France from a single piece of high carbon stainless steel. The blade and handle are a single piece of steel, so there is no risk of a blade divorcing a handle mid chop! The knives are hand forged, and have an unbelievable balance in the hand, and a wonderful almost instinctive slice. Their sharpness stays for ages, and they feel both delicate and strong in the hand. I love these knives, and this one, my 4 star elephant Sabatier is my absolute favourite. Its a bit larger than a paring knife, but not as huge as a big chef’s knife. Its large enough to tackle big jobs, sharp and sturdy enough to mince an onion in a few seconds, and comfortable enough in my hand so that I never ever feel tired when using it.

I have a lot of knives in my kitchen, but this is the only one I will not allow anyone else to use. Its “my” knife, and when I hold it in my hand, I feel confident in what I am doing – which of course is half the battle won!

I have two of these 4 star knives, and I use them every single day. I love them so much, there are no words. I found them on ebay, where you can get amazing deals for old Sabatier knives. Do your research first, though. You must know what you are getting, and where its from. There are a lot of fakes out there!

And finally, my favourite graters. I have tried all sorts – box graters, those crappy ones they sell at Ikea, grater attachments for food processors, etc etc etc. But nothing, nothing, nothing compares to Microplane. These graters were developed as plane tools for the woodworking industry. It was a woman, cooking in her own home, who nicked her husband’s new woodworking tool, who gave these tools their place in inspired herstory. Once you have tried a Microplane grater, you will not use anything else again, ever. Everything, from carrots to cheese to peel, grates smoothly, evenly, and easily. There is almost no effort needed to get stunning results. These three graters are the only thing I ever use for cheese, for grating vegetables, for mincing garlic and ginger, and for getting the peel off lemons and limes. I use them all the time, and though you do have to be careful with fingers (they are sooooooooooooo sharp!) these are indispensable.

So these are three tools which make me happy, and help me to be a better cook. Hope they give you ideas about what you are using in your own kitchen. If you have special tools, I would love to hear from you!