Saturday, June 26, 2010

TC Blades 240 Gyuto

I recently took a 240 gyuto out for one of my late night sharpening and cutting sessions. (I don't have my camera available to me but will post photos soon.)

Tsil from TC Blades asked my opinion. Below was my response. Followed by his.

Hi TC,

Very interesting knife. The first thing that drew me to the knife was the appearance. That is one sexy looking knife. I love the rustic hammer finish and the matte black back. However I have a question, I noticed the grind marks in the transition between the mirrored bevel and the hammered finish. Were they left intentionally to enhance the rustic look? Just curious.

At first I gave it my usual sharpening progression. I was amazed how large a burr I raised on my two lower grit stones. I had no trouble removing the burr and the knife seemed to sharpen nicely.

I did my usual tests, push cut paper, tomato slice, onion dice and potato slice. The knife felt very sharp to the finger but I had difficulty push cutting paper. Despite this it worked very efficiently on the vegetables. You mentioned you leave a little extra material on the blade so the user can "train" the knife. With this in mind I went back to the stones and tried to thin out the edge a bit more and then re-tested the knife. It still wouldn't push cut paper but worked even better on the vegetables. I was a little confused because it worked so well "cutting" but couldn't cut the paper. I believe edge thickness may be why.

I understand some of the forum members weren't crazy about your knives. I think the reason is because they have tunnel vision. They are obsessed with "thin" and believe every knife should be a "lazer". This knife may have a thicker edge initially but over time this knife will keep improving. It is a very good knife for general kitchen production. Especially in a pro kitchen. It's thick and heavy which makes it ideal for an adverse environment. The blade is thin enough to prep darn near anything yet thick enough to prep many things I wouldn't normally use a gyuto for. If I were breaking down chickens, this would be the first knife I would reach for. It's stout enough to handle squash, root vegetables etc. It's an excellent "all around" knife. It may not be a great tuna slicer but anything else would be no problem. Including bone-in meats.

One thing I was particularly impressed with was how it handled potatoes. It sliced them thinly and consistently without the potato slices sticking to the blade. Food doesn't seem to want to stick to the KU finish. That also increases efficiency. (I've posted a video on my youtube channel, saltydog55252)

I'd say most chefs would be in good shape with one of your gyutos and a thinner knife for more delicate work. There would be no need for any other gyutos. You would have everything covered. I would also use it for tasks I might use a deba on.

In summary, it's a unique knife that is a workhorse and a pretty one at that. I love the saya the detailed pin and the satchel it comes with. It's a bit blade heavy but that's a matter of personal preferance. When I look at knives I try to keep my subjective opinions neutral. Not everyone cuts like me. The other criticism which isn't too big of a deal is the length of the machi. It does serve the purpose of allowing the user to "choke-up" their grip nearer the blade which is helpful with the heavy knife. The balance point is about an inch blade side of the choil which again is a personal preference. It is after all a heavy blade and darn near indestructible.

I've been using knives professionally for 35 years. I am not tainted by popular opinion or fads. I recognize knives and their potential uses. I immediately recognize a knife's strong points and tailor it's use accordingly. There are many tasks this knife would be well suited for.

Thanks for making it.


TC response:

Hi Scott,

I appreciate you taking the time to write to me. I think you have a great way with words, and I think you pin pointed exactly what these knives are all about.

The grind marks are simply a product of the hand making process. Of course the blade could have been "super finished" and left spotless - but then it would loose a lot of it's external character - as well as that extra material I was talking about. Many of our knives show various marks associated with the making process, but we don't find these to detract from the aesthetic value of the piece. If anything, we feel it gives the blade it's unique character. Naturally, if we where ever asked to produce a blade that was completely mirror finished, we would most probably rise to the challenge - but it would be somewhat "against the grain" as far as our philosophy goes.

Regarding push cutting the paper, I would suggest stropping the knife on leather - just like you would a straight razor. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Please feel free to share your notes about this knife with others in your field - I think there is far too much confusion about what TC Blades are all about at this point - and so many people out there simply don't know enough about knives to make an educated assessment.

Again, thank you for your input. I hope you enjoy this knife for many years to come.

Best wishes,


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ahhh, The 70's

I just added two new songs to the playlist. For anyone who was in their formative years in the 70's will likely remember these two songs. I can't help but smile when I listen. The memories come flowing back.

Green Grass and High Tides, by The Outlaws
Can't You See, by The Marshall Tucker Band

Damn, they could play.

P.S. I feel the playlist is an important part of the blog. It's another form of communication. I don't pick songs randomly, every one is picked for a reason.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sometimes It Hits You.

I'll keep this short.

The other day I was notified by a long time employee/friend that he was offered a job making much more money. He told me because he felt guilty being offered the job. He told me he wouldn't leave me because,(I quote)"you made me".

It's been days and I still think about what he said. I am humbled. Truly humbled. I forget sometimes of the impact people can have on other's lives.

Thank you for the reminder. Once again you've taught me another lesson.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sparks Will Be Flying (Originally published March 2009)

My first full time job was cooking at a Victoria Station Station restaurant. It was an upscale boxcar themed National prime rib chain. It was the place that got me hooked on this business. As I've said in the past it wasn't food that got me into chefing it was the actual physical act of cooking that attracted me. Having been an an avid high school athlete I found myself craving the action, energy or adrenalin, if you will. Cooking in a high quality, high volume atmosphere provided that. You had clear goals, a prescribed path, tools and the team to do it. You had a game every night and you got paid to play. You were pushed to the extreme. Three line cooks would serve a thousand covers on a weekend night and three to four hundred during the week. It was a busy place.

Of those thousand or so customers 75% of them are going to have prime rib. They have a choice of four sizes, some with bone, some without and of course how well they like their meat cooked. Needless to say the prime rib carver is going to be a busy guy. Not only does he have to accomplish satisfying the customer he also holds the key to profit and loss. 75% of all revenue goes through this one guy. He has to be good.

We would use the expression "Sparks are going to fly tonight!" when we knew it was going to be busy. "Sparks" was more than fitting for another crazy night at V.S. The term was coined not only for the tempers that would flare on a stressful night but more so for the actual sparks that would fly on the cooks line at the carvers station.

Because of the value of the carvers the company would import experienced prime rib carvers to open up new restaurants and train their replacements. We had a couple guys out of Chicago. Bob Zoufal and John Holland. Man I loved cooking with those guys. Those were the crazy days when we'd dole out the white cross, black beauties or black Cadillacs before the shift to fuel the afterburners during the rush. Not to mention pick us up after a heavy duty night of partying. It was practically a daily event. This is the same era Tony Bourdaine talks about in his book Kitchen Confidential, I can relate, we were all a bunch of crazy pirates that lived for the fast life and cooking. In that order. Despite being hard core partiers Bob and John could slice some beef. Between seven and eight hundred slices on a busy night, each one weighed so the customers watching in the lobby could see the weight. V.S. had an open kitchen and the carver was positioned on the far left on the cooks "line" with a tile wall to his immediate left. We'd carve the PR horizontally slicing from right to left. (For right handers.) The customers would gather and watch us while they were waiting for tables. All 750 slices within a 1/2 ounce of 8,12,22(bone-in) and 32 (bone-in). When John was carving and we'd really get going he would be slicing so fast he would hit the wall with the tip of the knife on his follow through. When the knife hit the wall, sparks would literally fly. Hence the phrase, "sparks are going to fly". The first time I saw it I shit. Johnny just laughed and he would do it occasionally through the night. Coincidentally, when there were the most people watching. Then I noticed the tips. The more often the sparks would fly the more tips we'd make. I wasn't sure what the empty pitcher was for in front of the carvers station, now I do. It was my first lesson in selling the sizzle. Johnny didn't always hit the wall on purpose he would do it by accident too. We cranked out an unbelievable amount of food. When all you have to do is slice and serve 75% of your menu you can serve alot of people real fast.

I started there as a broiler man. I would stand immediately to the carvers right and set up his plates as well as cook all the steaks and expedite the line. It was a chore but I loved it. I touched every plate served and how well we did was dependant on me being focused and in "the zone". Which brings me to Bob. Johnny was an excellent carver but Bob was just fiendishly, savant-like superb. He didn't need to sell the sizzle, he did it the old fashioned way. He earned it. There was always a scale at the carvers station so the customers could see how much the slice weighed. Bob would have the scale completely facing the customer, he couldn't see the scale. He didn't need to. He'd weigh over 700 slices and never look. The customers loved it. 90% he was right on or within a 1/4 ounce. Never more than 1/2. His tip jar was always the fullest. Another thing about Bob was he wasn't physically able to hit that wall with his knife even if he wanted to. He was left handed. He didn't swing towards the wall, he swung.......towards me. My first time working with him he said, "don't worry, I haven't lost a broiler-man yet". He never did get me, came close many times but no matter how fast he was slinging that knife he never cut me. For that I'm most appreciative of his skill.

Over time I became the carver and began to travel the country opening new restaurants and training carvers. I was very good at it and logged over a quarter million pounds cut but I was never as good as Bobby Z. I still had to resort to the sizzle.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Boys From The Old Hood (Reprint w/ photos)

I originally published this last June. I found some old photos of my crew and thought I'd include them.

Man aka Johnny aka J Man

J Money aka Jermaine

Dre aka Andre
(Notice the color scheme of the clothing, red and black are prevalent, gang colors. I had to let them wear them because it's all they had. Also note hat tilted to the right. It's the reason today's kids where their hats to the side. To emulate gang culture. Back then, they'd get their ass kicked)

The title of the previus post made me think of these guys. It's a phrase we would use when I was "on". It should read, "On like a chicken bone" but it cannot be pronounced that way. It's "Own like a chicken Bown".

About 15 years ago we opened our first "restaurant". We were leasing a space in a small hotel that consisted of a nicely equipped commercial kitchen and spacious dining room. We used the space primarily for our catering business and only opened the dining room for lunch. One of the reasons we didn't open for dinner was the area had a stigma of being dangerous. The spot was great for a catering kitchen because it was located in the center of the metropolitan area but not so good for dinner business with all the pan-handlers, prostitutes and gang bangers. It was indeed a dangerous neighborhood. My wife and I were intimately familiar with it. We lived less than a mile away in a grand old Victorian we rehabbed, my wife worked in the hood as a community organizer and I was stationed in the neighborhood's firehouse. If I had a fire at my home or business while I was at work at the fire dept. I would have been with the first fire engine at both. As a matter of fact my wife was instructed to call 911 and say there was a fire for any emergency. I would be there in less than two minutes with four other guys.

When we opened the "cafe" it was tough getting help. I think we had five people apply. I hired four. I passed on the homeless guy who asked for money during the interview. I hired Johnny, Jermaine, Andre and Mary. Mary would be the waitress and the boys would be in the kitchen. (I use the term "boys" for all my male kitchen staff.)

Johnny, Jermaine and Andre were all related. Johnny, better known as "Man" was the obvious ring leader and thinker in the group. Jermaine, better known as, "J-Money" was the enforcer, tall, dark and covered in corn rows he was the sterotypical "gangsta". J-Money was living with Man's sister and was her baby's daddy. Andre, better known as "Dre" was Man's younger brother. He was the shy and demure one, lowest member on the totem pole. At least by the hood's standards. Man had held jobs before but the others had not. J-Money had been doing hard time for two felony convictions and Dre was getting disability money for a mysterious ailment.

These guys stayed with me until we moved to our current restaurant 30 miles away. They attempted to make the trek to the boonies when we opened but that didn't last long. Car problems and the law plagued them. In these parts there aren't too many black folks and they tend to draw attention from the local police. The last straw was when their car broke down on the way home and ended up at the "Southbound Saloon". They called the only white guy they knew to rescue them. When they told me where they were I rushed over to get them the hell out of there. The Saloon is redneck central. I wasn't worried about their safety I was worried about the law. No matter what the black dudes weren't coming out on top.

Close to four years those guys had my back. Four years! That's an eternity in their world. We became this weird little "gang". Eventually we hired their cousin Robert. Robert had just gotten out of prison and needed work. We'd been getting busier and I needed a dishwasher. Robert didn't have a nickname. He was just Robert. Not sure why, he was the hardest one of the bunch. He'd been convicted of shooting his brother five times. His brother! We'd work together for 40 hours a week, hang out in the hood after work and I'd see them when I was riding around on the fire truck. It was "our" hood. That's one of the reasons I managed to hang on to these guys for so long. When they went to work it was "the pack" or "gang" going to work. And work was in their hood. It was comfortable and safe for them. And as long as I was with them it was comfortable and safe for me. (Not unlike being on a Fire crew) I could almost sense why the gang mentality exists in the hood. It's that comfort thing. Most of Man's and J-Money's friends that I met and got to know lived in the neighborhood all their life. Most had never been outside of Milwaukee county. The anxiety of poverty, the ghetto, alcohol, the man and violence wears on you and knowing that circle of people you trust will have your back is important.

We never had trouble at our restaurant in the hood and I think a big part of that is that the boys worked there. They were also part of a larger network of "folks" who looked out for each other. They were all members of the Vice Lords. One of the two largest and most violent gangs in Milwaukee. They kept that on the DL when they were around me but I'd notice the pant leg rolled up when they'd get to work etc. They'd remove any colors or "signs" when working. Through their network the other members of the organization new not to mess up a good thing for the brothers. Pan handlers we can deal with, having connections with the real power in the neighborhood was priceless.

I've spoken with Man recently. He's still in the same hood, in the same house with the same family. Except it's grown by two since we last talked. He's been working off and on and Dre still collects social security for that mystery illness. I was relieved to learn that J-Money was in prison. I had previously looked up his criminal record online and noticed it stopped four years ago. That meant he had found God, died or gone to prison. I didn't think he found God. Being a three time loser he'll be gone for a while. It may sound weird but J-Money was a good guy. His basic human characteristics were sound. Sweet as an angel, hard working and loyal as the day is long. I miss that big dude. Unfortunately he had issues when it came to drugs and alcohol. Like many, it turned out to be his down fall.

I feel fortunate to have worked with those guys. They taught me lessons on the most basic levels. I hope they picked up something from me during the time they were with me. I take comfort that during that time none had gone back to jail, none had lost family members to violence, none abused drugs, most established a family foundation and hopefully came away with knowing a middle aged white guy they respectfully dubbed "Dawg" had their back for four years.

One of these warm summer days I'll take a ride up to Waupon and see J-Money. Bet he got fat.