I wish I had a buck for every overpriced clunky wedge of Teutonic steel I’ve acquired in over thirty years of working the line in my own kichen. Fifty cents for all the Chinese cleavers, kitchen shears and pricey paring knives. A buck fifty for the assorted steels, stones and electric crap we’ve bought to keep them sharp — I tell you I’d be a hundredaire!
But there’s no use weeping over Wusthoffs, especially as I’m now the happiest I’ve ever been about my knife block. These cheap and cheerful couteaux are made in France in the ancient knife-making town of Thiers, by L’Econome, and sport carbon steel blades with painted wooden handles. If you’ve browsed Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel in the past few years you’ve seen the paring knife, priced at about eight dollars. Mine set me back five bucks, but that was five years ago.
As you can see in the pic, it’s showing some wear — I suspect someone used it for prying purposes. The paint’s getting battered from five years of washing and the occasional unintended overnight dip in the dishwater. But as one can grow to love a bent battered pet more with every year, so is it with me and my paring knife. Before my thrilling aquisition of L’Econome Marque Deux I used that baby for everything but hacking bones.
(I promise to find a less shiny ruler.)
In her last illness my mother stayed at L’Hopital Elisabeth Bruyere a few blocks from Ottawa’s splendid Byward Market. (Ottawa has the highest number of independent cooking stores, per capita, than any other city I know.) After cruising the produce stands for the dinner’s fruit and vegetables (“Bonjour Madame!.” “Bonjour, Madame!”) I popped into a shop on Dalhousie Street called Ma Cuisine, and pulled out my purse. For twenty bucks CDN there he was, the ten inch utility big bro’ of my red paring knife. The saleslady said: “I had fifty of these in stock yesterday. You’ve bought the last one. As soon as this knife arrives all the chefs from the restaurants around the market wipe me out.”
That knife’s scary-sharp edge got me though that sad spring’s cooking. It pared, sliced, diced and carved fish, fowl, vegetables, fruit — anything that hit the cutting board. When I got back home I realized I’d left it in Ottawa, mourned for a minute and forgot about it.
But my joy knew no bounds when I found it in the knife drawer on my next trip to Ottawa. Me: “Oh, here it is! I was wondering what happened to it!”
Daddy: “I love that knife. It’s my favourite knife.”
So I returned to Ma Cuisine and bought another one. I was lucky — there were only two left.
So why am I so loyal to this cheap cutlery? Well, it’s sharp, it stays sharp forever and it takes a great edge when it’s time for a touch-up. It’s strong, light and flexible. I love the bright wooden handles in French farmhouse colors. These L’Economes are as satisfying as that beech-handled Opinel folding knife we all bought in Europe, and in the same way: functional, sharp and French.
For tasks that require more heft I’ve ditched the cleaver forever. Behold the 1.99 pruners I bought on sale two years ago at –of all places –the gardening aisle at Joanne Fabrics. They’ve cut back shrubbery, deadheaded roses and spatchcocked chicken for two years and show no sign of blunting — rib and shoulders about any pair of kitchen shears I’ve ever owned. Cheerful too, non?
These three items are on my 5***** highest recommended list. When you find them, buy them.