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Farmers Markets

Gary the Knife Guy: Knife Customer Honesty, What It's Like to Be Married to a Knife Guy + the Best Knife for Mom

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Tue, Apr 24, 2012 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Knives in Gary's stall at the Pasadena Farmers Market - A. SCATTERGOOD
  • A. Scattergood
  • Knives in Gary's stall at the Pasadena Farmers Market
In the handful of years that Gary Silverstein of Gary's Knife Sharpening has been in the steel-refining business, he has built up a cadre of loyal Wüsthof and Korin devotees, including us, who make pilgrimages across town to the various farmers markets wherever he makes appearances.

When you drop off your knife, or your entire knife block, as one woman did on our weekend trek to the Beverly Hills Farmers Market to find him, Silverstein will tell you to come back in 10 minutes or so, after you've done your produce shopping. But if you stick around his booth, and if you can fire off your pressing questions at a decibel level sufficient to drown out the loud whirring of his grinding wheel, Silverstein is always happy to share his onion-chopping insights.

And if you happen to be the woman who brought her entire knife block to the market so every single knife can be sharpened, he will also tell you -- politely, grinning, like he's letting you in on a secret -- that you really don't need so many knifes. "Unless you happen to have four people cooking all at the same time," he said on Sunday to a woman picking up her order. And yes, Silverstein is well aware he is talking customers out of bringing him more business in the future.

No doubt that's part of the reason his wife, Mary Beth Pape, was inspired to produce a series of pretty hilarious "Mrs. Gary" video shorts, beginning with the one above, on what it's like being married to a knife sharpener. Her motto: "Finding happiness has never been so depressing."

That candor carries over to Silverstein, who always has plenty of handy opinions when you ask him things like what knife brand/company would he recommend to the average home cook?

Not which type of knife blade, even if that's what we hear more about these days, as that's a personal preference that evolves over a cook's Santoku cooking years. We wanted to know which company he thinks makes the best solid, go-to knife for a home cook who is eager to improve her knife skills and is quite an accomplished cook. Someone who hails from a generation of cooks who remember when electric serrated knives still made regular pineapple trimming appearances. Someone, perhaps, like your/our mom. Should we go with Wüsthof or Korin or Henckels? Handing over a knife for Mother's Day sounds so much more fun than flowers.

"Cutco," Silverstein said without hesitating. "For the money, it's a solid knife from a good company, and maybe other than the handle that's not ergonomic, the steel is good and they'll replace the knife if you're not happy with it. It's one of the companies I always recommend for people starting out who aren't sure what they want yet."

If you're not familiar with Cutco, it's a fantastically ironic answer from a knife specialist, as the company harbors plenty of 1980s door-to-door salesman memories. They were the sort of knives your neighbor's kid always seemed to be neatly unfolding on your doorstep, the moment you pulled into the garage, from a velour pouch. Next came the infomercial-worthy "Never needs sharpening!" motto and the hopes of selling you a shiny new set, always for some compelling Cosby Show-era reason (to fund a prom tux rental, to pay for a soccer team trip). It's quite likely many moms are using that very same "never needs sharpening" set to this day.

"The best way to have a knife that never needs sharpening is to never use it," clarifies Silverstein, who says the offerings Cutco is putting out today are much better. "The never-needs-sharpening thing was like that Ginsu knife mentality that was going on at the same time -- cutting through nails on TV and all that."

So if you want to spend $200-plus on a chef-worthy chef's knife for mom, feel free. But at this point in her kitchen career, after all those onions she's chopped for you, she'd probably appreciate the irony of a new-generation Cutco knife. One that, like so many things in life, it turns out really does require sharpening over the years.


Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Find more from the author @eathistory + eathistory.com.

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