Alex Pole's guide to kitchen knives
Interview Vilma Paasivaara
As he joins the Hole & Corner x dunhill Home of Craftsmanship for London Craft Week, Alex Pole of Pole & Hunt picks out four of his favourite knives…
Being a blacksmith and bladesmith I have, over the years, gathered a large collection of knives. Some of which make up part of my collection are never likely to be used, the others are occasional knives for either the kitchen or for use outdoors. However, for cooking in general I use just a small number on a regular basis. Here are a few of my everyday knives:
Hand Forged San Mai Kitchen Knife
This is a 9 1/2″ laminate blade with copper bolster and pin and walnut handle. Made by myself and Ed Hunt before we set up Pole and Hunt, this was one of our first collaborations and my first ‘proper’ chef’s knife. With a straight back and a long swooping curve on the edge, it is a great all-rounder with an exceptionally sharp blade and great edge retention (meaning how long it stays sharp). It’s used for both cutting vegetables and meat (usually cooked steak). The carbon steel and iron laminate blade do need a certain amount of care and attention so as not to go rusty, but as long as it is washed and dried then there’s no problem. I have had this around two years and it is developing a beautiful patina. It sharpens very well with a butchers steel.
A great 10 ½” knife with a broad K-tip blade and integral bolster, this also has a (moulded) vulcanised rubber handle for better grip. This is really a knife made for use in a professional kitchen as it is stainless steel and requires very little maintenance (although still never to be put in the dishwasher!). I only use this for heavy chopping veg and bunches of herbs. I first came across Pallares Solsona knives being sold at a market in central southern France around ten years ago. The style and simplicity of these knives immediately caught my attention and I purchased at least half a dozen there and then. Later that year I managed to get in touch with the owner, David Pallares, and started to import their range to the UK for selling. David’s family have been making traditional Catalan knives for over 125 years and are the last remaining family in the city to do so.
Carbon Steel Utility Knife
The carbon steel that Pallares use is of exceptional quality and takes a wickedly sharp edge. This is probably the knife I use the most day-to-day – and was the only knife I ever used for many years. The distinctive ‘round’ boxwood handle fits perfectly in the hand and the 4” blade is the perfect length for chopping both veg and meat. These knives are also exceptionally easy to sharpen on a steel or wet stone – although they do need fairly frequent honing to keep the razor’s edge. Also, like the Pole and Hunt blades, this knife needs to be used then wiped clean or washed and dried immediately.
Another early piece, this was originally made for a customer who requested a copy of the Pallares utility blade but with a German style. The brass and Wenge handle is long and thin and gives the whole knife a sleek, slightly deadly, look – this is something that wouldn’t look out of place in a medieval feasting hall! Mostly I use this knife for eating with (and have been known to take out to restaurants as they very rarely have decent steak knives!) but it is also great for veg and salad. All the Pole and Hunt knives are hand-forged from British high-carbon steel – and we now use only timbers found within the UK. The beauty of the steel we have found to use is in its great stain resistance and its ability to take an edge – characteristics that appeal to many of the pro chefs that commission our knives.
To me, a good knife is simply one of the most important items to have to hand. Whether in the kitchen or our in the field, this is the tool I use most on a daily basis – and without it I’d be lost. Hand-forged or precision-made, mono-steel or multi-layer: either way, it doesn’t really matter as long as your knife is sharp, strong and well looked after.
Pole & Hunt will be demonstrating their art in the courtyard of Bourdon House for the Home of Craftsmanship during London Craft Week 2018; poleandhunt.co.uk