Joe Gamache figures he’s sharpened close to a million knives in his 20-year career. And he’s seen it all — blades that have lost a quarter-inch or more in width thanks to overzealous sharpening, tips broken off in stubborn screws, and then people like me. I showed up on a recent morning with two full sets of knives, both as dull as cardboard. When the first got too dull, I switched to the second. When the second got dull, I wrote “sharpen knives” on the kitchen message board. That was months ago.
Gamache grumbles good-naturedly about my Cutco bread knife. “These are my least favorite,” he says, “so many notches. But it’s a good knife.” Just minutes later, he and his tapered, diamond-tipped sharpening tool have sharpened every notch in all my blades.
Gamache’s boss at Eversharp, Tom Jensen, got into the knife business almost by accident. His company, Triple C, builds out convenience store and deli interiors, fitting them with fixtures and display cases. Years ago, he built a lot of cases for the Wüsthof distributorship, which used to be next door. “When that closed, I thought, ‘Oh, shoot, I’ve lost a really good customer.’” But he kept building cases for Wüsthof nationwide (still does, as a matter of fact) and the company even gave him a knife set. An avid home cook, Jensen appreciated the quality.
That convinced Jensen to reopen the Wüsthof distributorship as Eversharp. He brought Gamache, who had worked at the original business, back onto the team. Now Eversharp is the go-to place for professionals and home cooks. It’s also one of two places in the country where you can get a reconditioned Wüsthof. These are department store display models that have been cleaned up and now sell for half the usual retail price.
“If Wüsthof makes it, we sell it,” Jensen says. He also carries Helle hunting knives from Sweden and hand-forged Kikuichi knives from Japan, as well as factory seconds from Duluth-based Epicurean. These are high-quality dishwasher-safe wood cutting boards that pro chefs love. Jensen says shoppers make the trip from Madison, from Iowa, even one chef from Hawaii. He has shipped products out to all 50 states and even to Australia.
This is a busy time of year for Eversharp. There are holiday shoppers, of course, but people are also spending more time in their kitchens. “We get a lot of people who plan ahead and bring in their knives before Thanksgiving,” Jensen says. “But we also get a lot of people the day after Thanksgiving.” So a long day in the kitchen has shown them just how dull their knives have gotten? “Yep. They say, ‘My wife says not to come home until I’ve got the knives sharpened.’”
While Gamache (pictured below) tackled my knives, Jensen and I spent some time talking about proper knife care.
Should I sharpen my own knives at home or do I risk ruining my knives?
You’ll never ruin your knife unless you use an electric sharpener. But using a ceramic sharpener, well, that’s quite an art.
We do teach everyone who comes in here how to use their honing steel. When you’re spending that kind of money on a knife, you should take care of it. A steel won’t sharpen a blade; it doesn’t take any metal off at all. But it will straighten out the fibers. You can’t really see it, but the fibers on a metal blade start to separate with use. It’s something you should do just about every time you pull out your knife. A professional chef will use a honing steel maybe five or 10 or more times a day.
Sometimes I’m in the middle of a project and I’ll start to feel the resistance — I’ll get nice, clean slices and then it will start to kind of drag. So I’ll wipe off the blade, pull out the steel and then I instantly feel the difference.
What you want to do is hold your steel [perpendicular to] the cutting board, then hold the blade at a 15 to 20-degree angle. You find 90 degrees, half of that is 45, half of that is 22 and a half, so somewhere inside that. It doesn’t have to be exact. Then, with a nice, light pressure, you pull back toward you seven to nine times.
We talk to some people who really aren’t comfortable with the steel, so we tell them to use a tabletop [non-electric] sharpener and run the blade through the fine side two or three times, lightly.
How often should I get my knives sharpened?
A typical household? Use your honing steel and then come in once or twice a year. About half of our customers are professional chefs and about half are households. Chefs tend to come in once a month. Mondays are really busy days around here because a lot of chefs have that day off.
How should I store my knives?
Most importantly, don’t let them bounce around in a drawer. Wooden blocks are a good choice, so are chef’s rolls, and those magnetic bars. Just be careful not to slide the back of your knife as you take it off, because it will scratch. And don’t turn it as you take it off, so that the edge rubs against the bar, because that will affect the blade. There are also wooden drawer inserts for people who don’t want their knives on the counter.
I can think of half a dozen customers with his-and-hers knife blocks on either end of the counter. It’s typically because one is really passionate about their knives and wants to keep them away from the other. And we’ve got customers who buy the chef’s rolls because they know when they go to a friend or relative’s house to cook, the knives won’t be sharp.
What kind of cutting board should I use?
Wood or poly is the best. When you choose a cutting board it should be soft enough that the knife leaves a scratch. Glass is a terrible idea and so is granite. We have a lot of people who just got granite countertops and the installer made them a nice cutting board out of the piece cut from the sink. In one use you’ll dull your knives on granite.
What are some common ways people abuse their knives?
A big one we see is the electric sharpener. That really takes years off the life of a knife.
Don’t put them in the dishwasher. Knives can rust. A good blade is generally more likely to rust than a bad blade, because of the higher carbon content. And when a knife bounces against the racks of your dishwasher, it can cut into them and make them rust, then your dishwasher is spraying rust all over the place. And rust will stain china.
And daily we see people coming in with a broken tip. That Wüsthof tip is just the right size and shape for getting into a screw. We can reshape a knife with a broken tip. Joe’s really good at getting the shape back in and giving it a new life. It’s just that maybe you started with a four-and-a-half-inch blade and now you have a four-and-a-quarter.
Trying to cut through bones or frozen food is also a bad idea. And cutting cardboard is really hard on knives.
How many knives do I really need?
There are only four knives a home cook really needs: an 8-inch chef’s knife, an 8-inch bread knife, a paring knife, and maybe a smaller serrated, like a tomato knife. That’s a good basic start.
Joe’s favorite knife, and my favorite, is the santoku. This is a Japanese chef’s knife. It’s thinner and a little lighter and not as long as a chef’s knife. You can use it for chopping and slicing. Wüsthof makes one with divots on the side that break the suction on things with a lot of moisture, line onions and potatoes. The santoku has been Wüsthof’s number-one selling knife for years and years.
How long will a good knife last?
A knife like a Wüsthof is generational. We see people coming in with their grandparents’ knives, with knives that are 60 or 80 years old. And they’ll use those knives for the rest of their lives. Wüsthof stopped making wooden handles for about 40 years — they just started making them again — but we see a lot of those old knives with wooden handles come in here. And, as long as they haven’t been through the dishwasher, those knives are in great shape.
What kind of cooking do you like to do?
I do a lot of grilling. I like making pesto. I go to the farmers market and buy a big shopping bag full of basil and make enough pesto to last the season. Joe’s a big cook, too, and he does most of the cooking at his house. We both did the turkeys for Thanksgiving in our clay ovens.
What do you teach in your knife skills classes at Eversharp?
Joe does most of the teaching and we really concentrate on how to maintain the edge on your knives. We talk about the different kinds of blades and really encourage people, even if they only buy one knife, to go with a forged blade rather than a stamped blade. We talk about the right knife for the right use, a cook’s knife versus a carving knife and so forth. And we have everyone chop onions and tomatoes and cheese and we make a pesto pizza on a Primo grill. And we usually have some wine or another beverage. They fill up pretty quickly; the ideal class size is about 12.
Gamache hands me my knives, wrapped securely in brown paper and warns me to be careful. He says I’m probably used to putting a lot of pressure on my dull knives and that can be dangerous. “Cooking can be a chore or it can be a pleasure,” he says. “And good, sharp knives make it a pleasure.”
344 Taft St NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
612.379.1300 or 866.797.0555
HOURS: Mon-Fri: 9am-5:30pm