Or, one man’s story of seduction and betrayal by Calphalon knives.
Once upon a time, on a whim, I bought a Calphalon santoku (see above) at BB&B. For a long time, it lay in a cupboard as some kind of backup knife to be used for experiments in honing or sharpening or anything else kitchenistic that might come up. Because, although Calphalon was famous for their pans—and for good reason, they invented and dominated the high-end non-stick market—I was skeptical Calphalon knives were anything special. A knife was a knife and a pan was a pan. Different engineering.
Then one day I actually dug out my Calphalon santoku from its hording place, released it from its packaging, and took it on a test run. Lo and behold, even through it lacked the proper pedigree of a knife made, say, in Seki City, Japan, or Solingen, Germany, it had a great feel. My hand loved the shape of the handle, the balance, the size of the blade. It felt really really comfy. And I thought, Huh, maybe Calphalon knives aren’t too shabby. So I continued to use my santoku and then, even before it fully dulled, sent it out to my favorite sharpening service (i.e. Seattle Knife Sharpening) for a thorough refurbishing. (Below: my santoku’s handle)
Professional Sharpening Always a Plus
Well, Seattle Sharpening being what it is (outstanding!), my Calphalon santoku came back significantly sharper than the original factory-sharpened blade. It had been transformed into a slicing monster. Which won it even more into my good graces and made it one of my favorite slicing knives, reserved for tasks like slivering cabbage for slaw or cucumbers for salads. Buuuuuut . . .
. . . because Calphalon was a newbie knife marketer and had, most probably, outsourced their manufacturing to Lord-knows-who, I was still skeptical. Plus, the blade said, “Made in China,”—China, who didn’t have a long history of creating high-quality blades. I knew the odds were slim the steel could hold an edge as well as a knife engineered by a name brand maker from Germany or Japan. Nonetheless, I was curious how long the edge could hold—and so far it was holding very, very well. This went on for years.*
Bad News Descends
Then, one day, in Feb 2017, I discovered on the internet that my sweet Calphalon santoku was on a official recall list. What? Manufacturing deficiencies had allowed 3,150 Calphalon knives to break—27 resulting in lacerations, four requiring stitches. (Nothing more serious, thank God.) Two million knives needed to be recalled. Pretty embarrassing. Especially for such a major, well-respected company like Calphalon.
What happened? Well, corporate liability being what it is these days, I knew it wasn’t worth bothering trying to get an answer to that question. So I shrugged and registered online at Calphalon’s knife recall web page—which I’m grateful was simple and fast—and about three weeks later received my official knife recall packaging kit.
Knife Recall Kit
The recall kit was a doozy. It had cardboard knife covers (of course), bubble wrap, a sealable tube for aforesaid bundle, special large round black stickers to keep things together, and finally, a good old-fashioned knife box. Oh, and of course, detailed, 4-color instructions in exactly how to properly pack my knife up. I guess Calaphon wanted to be super-sure there were no more accidents. It did make me chuckle though, and wonder, if Calphalon had taken as much thought and care with their manufacturing as with their recall packaging, maybe they’d be in a better situation.
Moral of the Story
Are we to conclude that Calaphon is run by a band of money-grubbing weasels who thought they could get away with pawning off crappy knives to a trusting, unsuspecting public? I don’t think so. On the other hand, somebody at Calphalon didn’t do their homework. And they ended up trusting some Chinese manufacturer who wasn’t worth trusting. I have heard of Shun knives chipping from being dropped on a tile floor, and of Wusthofs and Henckels getting a tip snapped off from being used as a stand-in for a screwdriver. But entire blades snapping while in use? That’s a new one.
Fortunately, nobody got seriously injured. And Calaphon has done the right thing by recalling two million knives—which is a whole lot of knives. Mine being just one of them.
Back to our moral . . . because for me, there are two timeless truths to be learned from this tale:
1. Knife making is a serious business. And there ain’t any room for short cuts. What it takes to make great knives is not only quality steel, but quality heat treating, and excellent quality control all along the production line. There’s good reason some of the major knife manufacturers have been around for decades, even centuries.
2. Home cooks need to learn to treat their knives right. When I think about how the majority of home cooks tend to abuse their knives (sorry friends, I can’t help but observe), I’m surprised we don’t hear more stories of broken, snapping knife blades. Was I just lucky that I had no problems with my santoku? Maybe . . . but I do know how to properly care for a kitchen knife. And I’m not going to use it to saw through a frozen baguette or power through a chicken leg or some other monkey biz. As a matter of fact, because of the incredible sharpitude of my Seattle-Knives-sharpened blade, I was very very close to not shipping my santoku back. It was painful saying goodbye. But I did.
And I’m waiting on a brand spanking new replacement . . . and, BTW, what is my current opinion of Calphalon knives? Have I banished them from having a right to exist? No, not really. If you’re truly sold on Calphalon and can’t afford to pay more—buy them. (Here’s mine: Calphalon Contemporary 7″ Santoku.) Odds are very slim the same disaster will strike twice—for one would assume the folks at Calphalon have learned their lesson.
But I still think there are better made knives around that will hold their edges longer. And although they’ll cost substantially more, generally, they’re worth the extra moola. See my Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations for more details.* Which is somewhat impressive, except for two caveats: 1) this santoku was just one of many chef-type knives in my kitchen, and 2) it was honed regularly and kept in impeccable shape.