If one visits a typical home kitchen, one would expect to see a Chef’s knife in Europe, a Santoku in Japan, and a Cleaver in China. These three knife profiles are all starting to appear together in these three parts of the world—and the rest of the world as well. This coming together of knife profiles is a reflection of a deeper coming together of food culture. The most recent arrival is China—though most everyone will have to be convinced that a fusion among these three profiles is real—and not just a marketing ploy.
Historically, they were radically different. The Chinese cleaver could be hand forged and made with relatively inexpensive materials. Still today, one can go to an American Chinatown community and buy a decent vegetable cleaver for a very low cost. Nearly all Japanese kitchen knives were once single bevel. Specialized artisan knives with specialized materials could be very expensive—with a very limited market outside of Japan. Western knives have been centered on the Chef’s knife with moderately expensive materials.
The earliest evidence of cultural fusion in Asian kitchen knives was the emergence of a double beveled variant of the cleaver in Japan—the Nakiri—designated for home use. It was like a traditional 4X8 cleaver, but much more narrow—and shorter: 2X7. It was meant for the home kitchen. A fusion version of the Western Chef’s knife was the Japanese double beveled gyoto, modeled specifically after the French Chef knife.
Although the cleaver was embraced world wide for heavy work with meat, neither the Chinese vegetable cleaver nor the Japanese fusion knives were adopted or modified in the Western households. The first Japanese knife that bred a Western complement was the further fusion of the Japanese gyoto and the nakiri to produce a santoku.
Western professionals were often satisfied with one large general purpose Chef Knife that was kept sharp with a honing steel on the job. Western home cooks were encouraged to purchase a set of knives that included a general purpose chef’s knife, a slicer, a bread knife, a small utility or petty knife, and a smaller paring knife. Kitchen shears and a honing rod were also considered essentials.
This multi-knife perspective provided a very lucrative marketing opportunity for knife makers from around the world.
To get into the world market at an appropriate level, China invested in knife production infrastructure at Yangjiang—not far from Guangzhou and Hong Kong—and developed capability as good as anywhere else in the world. They decided to establish their new advanced presence in the marketplace.
About four or five years ago, the Chinese launched a worldwide marketing campaign with products that imitated both the European and Japanese kitchen knives—but especially Japanese damascus knives—even calling them Japanese with Japanese steel. They accompanied the product imitations, in many cases, with false user reports:
I was contacted by one of these manufacturers, Shan Zu, to review and compare their Damascus version of a Western Chef’s knife with knives that I had: Wusthof Classic Ikon, Miyabi Birchwood, and Shun Santoku. I agreed:
The profile embraced aspects of all three of my knives in a new way—it was way more international fusion than I expected. I added the knife to my collection after the test, and began using it regularly. I followed up by buying an 8X4 classic Chinese vegetable cleaver. Since then, I’ve been following Chinese Fusion products with great interest—seeing them develop world culture fusion knives. One line that I’m following features a Chef’s knife, santoku, utility knife, and cleaver:
I’ve ordered the cleaver from this set to compare with the Shun Kanso Asian Utility knife that I’ve already purchased and reviewed on Chowhound. Both are fusion knives.
That's the knife I intend to review and test.
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