Skip to content

Paring knife

I’ve gone through several kitchens in my life, lots of pots and pans, various mixers, food processors, blenders and even a number of espresso machines. Kitchen scales? I’ve tried them all. But my one constant is my knives. No matter where I go, or where I move to, my knives come with me. I bought my favorite paring knife back in the early 1980’s and it’s still the most cherished item in my batterie de cuisine.

When I started my career as a cook I was told I needed to have two knives: a chef’s knife and a paring knife. Being new to San Francisco, I only knew about Whole Earth Access (now there’s a blast from our past, Bay Area folks…) but was told by the people I worked with in restaurant kitchens to go to Columbus Cutlery, in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.

A tiny square of a store, walking into the shop for the first time, I found myself surrounded by walls of knives of all kinds: Bread knives, vegetable turning knives, chef’s knives, mezzalunas, boning knives (which restaurant cooks, whose humor would embarrass a 12-year old, always call “boners,” ie: “Can I use your boner?” – and even though it’s about as funny as “Whole Paycheck” now is, we still say it…), cheese knives, oyster openers, chestnut knives, meat cleavers, and even sewing scissors and nail clippers.

This was in the era when Japanese knives weren’t as prominent as they are today. If you wanted a cleaver, you went to Chinatown. And being a restaurant cook didn’t have the same cachet as it does today. So Columbus Cutlery was sort of an “insiders” place. Sure, everyone could go there, but it was the only place professional cooks went. I didn’t have either a chef’s or a paring knife, so went into the store. The small, friendly old woman at the counter took care of customers and her husband sat behind a sharpening wheel that you could hear spinning in the back.

When you came to pick up your knifes if you dropped them off to be sharpened, they would be ready for you, tightly wrapped in butcher paper, taped closed, gleaming and razor-sharp when you opened them. I don’t remember the couple’s names but when I was looking them up recently, they were only referred to as an “immigrant couple.” Considering the neighborhood, I’m sure they were Italian. (The other bonus of going to their shop was getting a Sacripantina at the nearby Stella Italian bakery.)

During my years as a cook and baker in the Bay Area, before parking tickets tipped the $100 mark in San Francisco, I would double-park and run into Columbus Cutlery to drop off, or pick up my knives left for sharpening. I didn’t trust my knives to anyone else to sharpen my knifes and I still don’t like to bring my knives in for sharpening anywhere else because I don’t trust anyone, no matter how competent they are. (It’s just one of my things…) My philosophy on the best way to keep your knives sharp is to not let anyone else use them.

Paring knife

When people ask me, “What knife should I buy?” I tell them to go into a store and try them, because there is no one-size-fits-all brand or style of knife. Much depends on what feels good in your hands. (Not mine.) I took my own advice and tried various knives, and one that the owner had me try was a 4-inch paring knife made by a German company called Constant, with three tiny spades embossed on the blade. Like the other fine knives at the time (before a wave of Japanese and Japanese-inspired knives came on the scene), they pointed out that it was German-made, but it was well-priced and less than the more famous brands. I think I paid $16 for it and it became my most cherished kitchen possession.

Anyone who works in a restaurant knows how important their knives are, and the first thing I did as a line cook at the beginning of my shift was to take out my knives and carefully place them – my chef’s knife, my paring knife, and my bread knife – on a clean, folded kitchen towel, and no one was allowed to touch them without written permission.

One day, my paring knife disappeared. In restaurant kitchens, it’s a big no-no to use someone else’s knife without asking. (Preferably in writing.) Once, the head chef grabbed my chef’s knife and used the heel of it to bust a hole in the top of a tin of olive oil. Ouch! I still cringe thinking about it today.

No matter how much I kept an eye on it, my paring knife went wayward one night. I was distraught and it was never to be seen again, no matter how much I turned the place upside down, mobilizing the entire restaurant to find it for me. (The only time I threw a worse fit was when Barbra Streisand had come in for the dinner on my night off and the next morning, they told me about it, but no one though to call me and let me know. Consequently, I wouldn’t talk to anyone in the restaurant for at least two weeks after that.)

I won’t do the math because someone out there with better skills in that department could dispute how long it’s been, but I had that knife since my 20’s, and it’s decades later…and I still have it. It came back to me by serendipity: it turned up ten years later in one of the silverware trays in the restaurant. A busboy found it and knowing that it was a cook’s knife, he asked around if anyone knew whose knife it was. I was stunned to see it again, and it was, remarkably, still in pretty good shape. Since then, we have not been separated (my knife and I, not me and the busboy) – until recently.

I couldn’t find my paring knife in my apartment and figured someday, maybe in another decade, it would show up again. I decided to get a new one. I went online to try to find the exact same knife I had and it seems like it no longer exists. An internet search took me to this description: “Friedrich Herder Abr. Sohn, Constant-werk, Stahlwarenfabrik…is one of the oldest firms in Solingen tracing its roots back to 1623. The family was involved in the knife business for more 200 years before Friedrich registered the company in Solingen in 1840. They seem to have gone out of business and was bought out by another company, and don’t make the same knife.” Merde.

So I went to Les Halles in Paris, to buy a new one at Bovida. They didn’t have a huge selection like Columbus Cutlery did, and I missed the lovely Italian woman giving me advice, but I suddenly remembered the thrill of buying a new knife. My new knife was wrapped in a tough plastic package, so I couldn’t hold it before buying it, but the Déglon Sabatier name is a good one and I have one of their old knives that I like. So I pulled the paring knife off the wall display, which cost me around €25, and brought it home.

Paring knife

The design of their knives hasn’t changed since who-knows-when. My friends at Quitokeeto sell vintage ones, which look similar to the ones sold today, which are now made of inox (stainless steel). But the design is identical. If ya got it right the first time, don’t change it. So far, I’m very happy with my new knife and it’s the knife that I reach for most often because it’s so dang sharp.

However right after I bought it, by a stroke of luck, I found my old one a few weeks later. And now, they both now rest side-by-side on my kitchen counter. (Or sticklers for details might point out, on my knife rack.) The new one is noticeably sharper than my old Constant knife so I did finally break down and took my old favorite to the knife sharpener at the Bastille market early one Sunday morning. They did a decent job – and the guy who sees a lot of knives said to me, “That’s a nice knife!” – but in all honestly, I’ve been reaching for my new knife more than my old favorite, I’m sorry to admit. Since I let someone else aiguisé my knife, I’m pretty much over letting others touch my knives. And I’m almost over not getting to meet Barbra Streisand.  Almost.


Related Posts and Links

My Favorite Scale

The Bread Knife

My Favorite Knife

Sacripantina (Emily Luchetti)

The Cookware Shops in Paris

Déglon Sabatier Paring Knife (Amazon)






    • Rima

    Beautifully written David, as always. Enjoyed reading about your old knife and you.

    • Nadia@maisontravers

    What a nice story. My favourite is also a 4 inch paring that I bought in Les Halle’s about 25 years while at Le Cordon Bleu. Recently it has not felt sharp enough and I now need to find somewhere in Dordogne to have it done.

    • Ken

    Awesome story! Out of curiosity, where in Bastille market do you sharpen your knifes? Thinking taking mine there all the way from Hong Kong, believe it or not! Thanksss

    • Donna in CT

    I had that same Sabatier knife and loved it-it got lost in one of our many moves and hasn’t turned up yet, although I have its slightly longer brother, a boner (tee hee), and a 12″ chef’s knife. I bought them in the early 70’s and the parer cost about $7.00. After over 40 years, the knives are still great.

    I was an adoring 17-year-old fan in the audience of the Winter Garden Theatre in June of 1964-7th row on the aisle, if I remember correctly-watching Barbara in Funny Girl. She was amazing-so young, only a few years older than me, an aspiring singer. What a thrill it was!

      • Donna in CT

      Some fan I am!! It’s Barbra, NOT Barbara

    • Susan Walter

    I have two Sabatier knives — a chef’s knife and a parer. There is no point in me insisting no one else is to use them. The men in my family take no notice. The only time I lent a knife (a Swibo boner) to someone it came back with with nicks out of the blade. My father has been known to disappear with one of my knives into his workshop and cut up polystyrene or foam. My paring knife has a bent tip — someone, either my father or my husband has used it as a screwdriver. I’m on my third Sabatier chef’s knife. Luckily, they used to have a lifetime guarantee, but due to people like my husband, they no longer do. He twice (within 12 months) hacked at something frozen with my knife and caused a big square chunk to come out of the edge. Twice Sabatier replaced it at no cost to me. This was very early in our relationship. Fortunately my husband has not ruined a knife for years, but boy did he take some training!

    • Veronica

    I still have the carbon steel Sabatier chef’s knife I bought in 1979! Sadly I did not rely on professional sharpeners to keep it in shape, and it now has a rather wavy edge. I had to wince at Susan’s comment … my husband is another knife-destroyer, accounting for a few snapped tips and chipped edges over the years (knife silently replaced in the knife block or mysteriously “lost”).

    • Fazal Majid

    Next time you are in SF, try Bernal Cutlery (Guerrero & 18th) to Town Cutler (Bush & Jones)

    • Janet

    I still have The Whole Earth Catalog !

    • Steve L.

    Inquiring minds and all that: where did the lost knife turn up? (And how do you lose a knife in an apartment?) Which of the many Sabatiers is your new one? Lastly, I walked by Columbus Cutlery not two weeks ago and the place was cleared out — apparently for renovations. A “yikes” moment.

      • Alison

      Yes, please tell us where the knife was.

    • Nicolette

    I still have my Yiayia’s (Greek grandmother) paring knife used by 3 generations. Truthfully, I use it less now but is a comfort for me to hold it and know how many meals it helped to create and once when it went missing, I went nuts until I had it back in my hands. Just having it in my kitchen is like having my family with me.

      • Taste of France

      Totally with you. I have a knife from my grandma–Chicago Cutlery. She was a ham-boner in the packing house. She kept her knives very sharp, with a steel (brother got that). Not a chef, but a FABULOUS cook. And gardener. Lived to be 99 and 7 months.
      Sadly I don’t have her paring knife, whose wooden handle eventually was worn away so much that she kept it together with rubber bands.

    • Erin

    I have read your posts and books and delight over every word. I too lived in San Francisco from 1975-1990 and took my knives and scissors to Columbus Cutlery for sharpening. As I was reading your post I remembered picking them up in butcher paper, and then you wrote of the same memory. And I loved a particular chocolate pastry roll from Stella Bakery that I cannot find anywhere else – even in Italy! It was divine.
    I lived in Paris for 6 years and your first book was as if I was reading my own thoughts about adjusting to live with the Parisians. I go to Paris now about 3-4 times per month and constantly stumble into chocolatiers or bakeries that you have recommended and drop your name!
    Keep up your excellent posts – I treasure all of them!

    • debra

    Should read…

    And being a restaurant cook didn’t have the same cachet…

    • Vijaya Chandramouli

    Great article reflecting your love and passion for your First Knife.

    I fully comprehend your attachment as long years ago my dear mother also bought some German Solingen knives from Germany. I still have them as a ‘souvenir sentimentale’ as well as honoring their fantastic sharpness even after 50 years or so! Yes, such stuff is sacré and no one but the owners understand their ‘valeur’!

    Merci pour votre article – très intéressant!

    • PF

    Typo Alert! “…have the same cache as it does today.”

    I think you intended “cachet” which means “prestige” and not “cache” which is something hidden or stored. Like a “cache of pecans”. Cachet in English is descended from the French word cachet, meaning the seal on a document,

    I too, love my knives and hate letting others use them– a cache of mostly vintage Wusthof, older than most of my friends.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    PF and debra: I was trying to decide between using the French word or English, and didn’t resolve the issue before I hit the “Publish” button. It’s been corrected. Thanks!

    Susan+Veronica: I ended up buying an inexpensive cleaver for around $5 or so to keep around, so people could use it and they would keep my hands off my good knives. It works! (well, mostly…)

    Erin: It was a great place and I did a Google image search and saw the inside of the shop, in the old days, and the whole place came back to me.

    Steve: There was an article in the SF newspaper I came across that said their niece too over the shop. Wonder if she is renovating, or if it’s closed for good. I would imagine the rent is high.

      • Steve L.

      While still undergoing renovations (it’s been stripped down to the bare floor and walls), Columbus Cutlery remains open.

    • Gluten Free Babe

    I also love my knives and don’t let other people use them! I like the Japanese carbon steel blade ones. They seem to get sharper and stay sharp the longest.

      • June

      Yes, I have a Japanese carbon steel santoku with an absolutely horrible cheap wood and plastic handle but the blade is, and stays amazingly razor sharp and it’s my favorite.

    • Marny F

    Nothing in my silverware/knives drawers resembles a professional knife.

    The reason for that: I’d slice off too many fingers. My expertise with my knives is that they cut and are sharp enough for government work.

    This does NOT mean my eyes aren’t attracted to those gorgeous professional knives! I just know how dangerous they would be to my well being in my kitchen.

    I’ve adapted, obviously, to the dull side of cooking. ;-)

    Thanks for a wonderful article!

      • gigi

      That’s too bad… the most dangerous knife is a dull one.

        • Veronica

        Ain’t that the truth. Blunt knives are more likely to slip, and you have to apply more pressure.

    • Barbara

    David, what do you think about electric knife sharpeners. Do they do more damage than good?

    • Kiki

    I have many different knives but my best and most trusted ones are my Victorinox (Swiss) which I buy for a song when they are on special @ the Migros in Switzerland… :) They make a fantastic gift too for cooking crazy friends and I love giving them something from my country. (and last weekend – I did a lot of cooking – I managed to cut off a (tiny) slice of my digit finger AND cutting my thumb too). Something I usually never do – must have been the pressure.
    One I would never give away is a bread knife with a carved wooden handle (heft?), formed like a ear/spike. It came from my family, way back and the knife cuts as good as it must have on the first day. The other one I often use and love, is a large steel Santoku one which cuts easily through everything and is a joy to rest on the pointed end for ‘hacher’ herbs, garlic, onions and vegs.
    What an interesting post this is. Merci.

    • Tommy

    OMG Barbra Streisand! What’s wrong with the kitchen staff, I would have been so on the phone to you! I am in SF, was looking for a place to have my knives sharpened…..THANK YOU! Where do you go in North Beach, so much of the food is awful there, any suggestions are much appreciated!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Barbara: I’ve not used one so can’t say, although I have one of those Furi contraptions that do a good job for not a long of money. $4.50 on Amazon, plus shipping, but I think they’re being discontinued by the company?

    Kiki: Their knives are very good, although outside of Switzerland, the prices are much higher. I had a great Victorinox bread knife and a serrated paring-length knife, that I liked a lot.

    • angie lee

    My friend who is a Japanese French chef worked for the Hotel Miyako in Kyoto in the 90’s, where he was given a chef’s knife upon being hired. When you leave the position, you are supposed to give the knife back. He always insisted that “knives have a memory” so after working there for seven years he kept the original knife and bought the hotel a brand new one. Now, thirty years later, he still has the knife, and the blade is now 2-3 inches long, sort of a perfect paring knife.

    • Judy

    What are paring knives used for?

      • Andy

      Paring knives are use for small tasks like peeling garlic, slicing fruit and berries, and trimming pastry.

        • Gary

        Oh, you mean, paring? BTW, I also use my 4″ for 99% of my kitchen chopping, cutting and paring. I have to force myself to try my other knives just so they don’t get self esteem issues. The other one I use is also my bread knife and my 6″ chef. The 8 and 10″ I bought when I stared putting together my first kitchen in the late 70s, are all but useless. I never cut stuff big enough to warrant using them. Plu s too cumbersome. The 4″ paring was the first and best buy I ever made in cutlery. I use it every time I cook. I still have the cardboard cover. $16 Henckels. Bought in Santa Rosa, CA Now its probably $200!

    • Sam. M.

    My father was a Chef. It wasn’t just something he did it was his whole sense of identity. When he died we buried him with his Chef knife, also his favorite coffee cup he loved almost as much as his knife, something I’m sure that will confuse future archaeologists.

    My brother, also a Chef got his paring knife, and I got all the remaining contents of his knife roll. So I a non chef & haphazard cook have an amazing collection of fancy melon ballers & zesters & tiny little knives for making the fancy decorations that were in style when he trained in the 1960’s. They all sit in my tool drawer in their own special compartment, rarely used except to bring back childhood memories of my father laying out his knives, just like you described as I “helped” him prep for dinner service.

    It’s funny how much a persons tools, become an extension of them.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I know a few people who had a parent or grandparent who was a chef and they still have their knives. Many are old, and aren’t as sleek as the current options for knives, but most still work well – and they’re really beautiful. I have some old knives that I’ve found at flea markets in France, such as a fish or meat knife, and I love how they’ve been whittled/sharpened down over the years. I went to a bar that sells ham in Spain and they put the old knives on display on the wall after they couldn’t be used anymore. Most were 20~ old and the blades were about as thin as a wire!

    • Fiona

    30 years ago my now husband bought me a Sabatier knife as a Valentine’s present because he couldn’t believe I didn’t have a decent knife. It is still going strong (as are the two of us!).

    • Sue

    David, it was nice to hear your feelings about Columbus Cutlery. I live in Alameda, CA and I have retired as a hairdresser but that store was the only one to go to to get our expensive scissors sharpened well. I also remember the older lady and her strong accent and her husband sitting at the sharpening wheel. I also got many parking tickets and when the freeway was taken down it was very difficult to get there but always well worth it. I thoroughly enjoy your posts and your recipes.

    • Patricia

    Bonjour. Where is the knife sharpener at Bastille, please? Thanks!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      He’s in the center aisle, at the far northern part near the Breguet-Sabin métro station.

        • Stefanie

        Next to the Picardie apples and behind the stand that sells children’s toys across from the “bridge”.

    • Vincent Goetz

    I bought all my knives at Shackfords in Napa. They still have a guy that picks up knives, sharpens them, and returns them every Friday as you described. They had great knives, and interestingly sold the Tramontana line, inexpensive but good knives. (There are a couple of chefs in Napa Valley, they all shop at Shackfords.

    • Karen

    Love your writing.

    • Diana Leon

    It was so nice to see your little Sabatier and have it be your favorite. I bought my 4 inch one in 1961 or ’62 when I first started to cook and was living in S. F.’s North Beach. I went to Thomas Cara’s store filled with every knife and tool imaginable plus a huge row of espresso machines. He was a crusty old guy with a terrible temper but was very nice to a young woman asking for advice. I also paid a pittance compared to today’s prices and still have my carbon steel one which is seriously thin and saved for delicate chores. I recently replaced it on Amazon and am questioning the authenticity. It was sold by a chinese firm claiming it was a Sabatier but the logo has already disappeared from the side and it feels so clunky compared to my original. I also loved the Sacripantina at Stella’s and am delighted it is still available. So many of the great bakeries are gone. Thanks for a delightful post. Diana

      • Veronica

      Diana, I think Sabatier is just a name/franchise now. There are good Sabatier knives still, but there are some rip-offs too, nowhere near the quality of 30 or 40 years ago. You have to be careful where you buy.

        • David
        David Lebovitz

        I know that some manufacturers also make specific lines of cookware and utensils specifically for discount stores, to sell at lower prices. But things get knocked-off as well so it’s generally a good idea to buy from a trusted source.

          • Kiki

          That explains my Sabatier coming with a fancy saucisson ….. beautiful to look at but really, cutting power? I wish I had the meat-bit slightly cheaper because the saucisson was SO good!

        • James

        You are correct. Sadly the name “Sabatier” is no longer any guarantee of a knife’s quality.

          • David
          David Lebovitz

          It may be like the name Laguiole, which can be made by any number of companies in any country, some high-quality, and others, not so much. I caution people coming to Paris who see “Laguiole” knifes for sale at the markets (with a bee or fly embossed on the handle) for a few euros, that those aren’t the “real” ones. (Many of those are made in Asia.) – How to recognize an inferior Laguiole Knife.

    • Robert H.

    Oh god! You’re killing me! SACRAPANTINA!!!! My favorite, of all time, birthday cake! As a San Francisco native, and having lived away for the better part of 30 years, there are few things that jolt me right to my teen-age years as the Sacrapanatina dome cake, served with a Graffeo espresso.
    (..Le sigh….)

    • Tim

    As always, beautiful and inspiring writing. I love cooking with my partner but nothing ever made the sparks fly faster than seeing one of my good knives at the bottom of a pile of dishes in the sink. We have his and his knives now.

    • Annabel

    My mother lost her paring knife once – I don’t think she’s ever quite found another one that she liked as well.

    Why are other people’s knives always blunt, though? I tend to sharpen mine every time I use them, but other people don’t, and you end up struggling to slice tomatoes, or cutting yourself when it slips on an onion….

    • Virginia Hamilton

    I also lived in San Francisco (North Beach) in the 1970s and had my knives sharpened at Columbus Cutlery. I am sad to say I never bought a knife there. The man who sharpened them once explained to my husband and me what the proper sharpening process did to a blade and even drew us some pictures to illustrate. It was very enlightening and we never forgot that explanation. I also remember Stella’s. I always got the St. Honore cake for my birthday. That shop was my inspiration for starting a pastry and dessert business when I moved to Austin in 1982 where really wonderful desserts were lacking at that time, though not anymore.

    • Nima

    What a well written story!

    • Kim

    I’ve got a beloved old knife I’ve had since my teens when working for chefs. I dropped it one day and the tip broke off I still use it I have a Steele which I sharpen with. Also sewing sisscors no one is to touch them! If one sews they know – only for fabric.

    • Jake

    Neat story. Dîtes-moi, David, aren’t knives with rounded handles safer in the kitchen than knives with squared ones, simply because if you set a square one down on it’s back and pick it up wrong… Whereas a rounded handle will roll over on its side.

      • Sandra Alexander

      Yes, I agree!

    • John

    I felt your loss when your knife disappeared at the restaurant. I have a very similar story. A pair of pliers. I worked in vacations at a company while a student at Uni. Although the company supplied tools, they were total rubbish, so I brought in my much loved pair of pliers. On my birthday, of all days, they disappeared. I was distraut, spent much of the day hunting for them, with others helping.

    I had to give up, I purchased another – not so good – pair of pliers. The next vacation, back at work, a friend took me aside and handed me – my pliers. It seems one of the others ( a contractor who supplied their own tools while doing the job) saw my really nice pliers, and half-inched them. Then kept silent while the hue-and-cry was going.

    After I’d left for the next term, my friend one day noticed the pliers in this guy’s tool box, and took them back, knowing that he could prove they had been “borrowed”.

    I’m eternally grateful for my friend who both spotted the pliers, retrieved them and returned them to me. I still use them daily.

    The pliers may look basic compared to the fancy models one can get these days, but it’s the fit in the hand.

    • Sassyshar

    Thanks for the memories. When I had the funds to start buying a good knife I was working in the garment industry. There was an old European that was our head cutter. I went to him for advise…who better? His one piece of advise, just make sure you buy a product from Solingen. I did. Have never been disappointed. I had to replaced one knife….someone??? decided to use my paring as a screwdriver or??? and snapped off the tip. Still curious as to what they were using it on.

    • italiangirlcooks

    Good information, nice memories. My chef friends use knives I’ve never heard of and are attached at the hip to them.

    • Robert

    Check out the (relatively) newly opened Japanese Knife Company (13 rue de Cote) right by the Place d’Aligre. Wonderful selection of Japanese knives and skillful knife sharpening.

      • Robert

      Oops, that rue de Cotte

        • Jan

        Thanks…sounds like a good place to visit!

    • Polly

    Try the Sabatier “tomato knife.” You will love this versatile little gem. I promise you. I get them at the only Sabatier outlet in the US (it’s in SC). Sabatier manufactures different lines at different price points. The tomato knife I get is only about $9 (U.S.) and it is positively the most useful knife I’ve ever owned … and not just for cutting tomatoes. I now buy 3-4 at a time because once someone uses it at my house they try to steal it from me!

    • Gavrielle

    Lovely! Re the thing about a knife feeling good in your hand, I got some great advice when I bought my wonderful Henckels chef’s knife in the early 1990s. The knife guy said that although when trying them a lighter knife might feel more comfortable, a heavier knife is a better cutter. That thing felt like it weighed a ton when I first got it, but I soon got used to the weight, and he was right about the cutting.

    • Gin

    Doesn’t anyone sharpen their own knives??? Yes, there’s an art to it, but once mastered, it’s like riding a bicycle, you never forget.

      • Tommy

      I was thinking of trying to learn, I looked at classes, I’ve watched video, how did you learn?

        • Gin

        My father taught me to sharpen a knife when I was 6. Totally ruined me. I eventually ended up carving for a living for something like 25 years. Watch your videos for the basics, but I think you’ll find the best teacher is experience.

    • Rosemary mark

    Enjoyed your story, especially the throw-back to Whole Earth Access! Totally relate about the knives – my 1980 Wusthof paring knife ‘disappeared’ then reappeared after I bought a gleaming new stainless handle version in Germany. Now I usually reach for the new one first.

    • Linda

    I bought my first (good, carbon steel)knives at E. Dehillerin in Paris when I lived there in 1972, and had them confiscated by security and stored in the cockpit of the 747 I took home to S.F in ’73. Still cherish them! Every trip to Paris, I still have to check out the knives at Dehillerin. Thank you, as always, for your great blog

      • Tommy

      I went there years ago, they had a newspaper clipping on the wall of Julia Child visiting the store. I bought kitchen twine and a big sewing needle and a big whisk…..still have them 25 years later, my only real hobby I have is cooking, I’ve had many fun adventures in foreign lands shopping for kitchen souvenirs. Many fond memories.

    • kris

    How can things disappear in a kitchen? Never had this problem till I was in my 30s–slowly going nuts? Plates, good teacups, silverware, then the good Sabatier paring knife couldn’t be found, the one that came with my husband. Nor some of the cheaper ones that came with me…. A few years later we had an ancient, dead pepper tree removed from the garden. Afterwards, one of the men came to the door with a cache of toys, broken dishes, and half a dozen knives including the Sabatier. Boy children! That’s what it was! We had no idea that a knobby hole in an old tree could be so enticing to small children–the magic of disappearing down a tree with no possibility of ever getting it back….I have a story about the chef knife too, but, some other time!

    • Roberta Johnson

    I used to have Henckel and Wusthof knives but replaced them five years ago with Cutco. These are hand sold. I am just an amateur, but I was astonished at how much I like them. Very comfortable to grip, a good weight, a full tang, and they sharpen beautifully (I go to this older gentleman named Tony at the Farmer’s market). The Cutco paring tomato chef’s knife is a thing of beauty.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I was at a culinary event and they gave us all one (1) Cutco steak knife. I took it home and it was incredibly sharp and I’m not sure I ever used a better steak knife. Afterwards, some of us were messaging each other, wishing they had given us three more!

    • Laura

    Lovely post. The history behind your paring knives was fun to read, thanks for sharing. And now I’m going to check out that paring knife you got!

    • Christine

    I never understood the importance of a good knife till I met my current sweetheart, who was appalled at the state of the Chicago Cutlery knives I was using. Very dull! I was cutting myself quite often! I now love my Victorinox knives now, which are inexpensive and nicely balanced.

    • Coral White

    Guess what? Yesterday, when I was in Williams Sonoma, they had E.Dehillerin knives from France. I bought a 6″ paring knife and can’t wait to use it!

    • Cully

    David, your story was very nice, but to read the comments and see how it resonated in so many ways with different readers (some with the same memories and experiences) shows what a good writer you are. Knives, who knew?

    • Sally

    It’s a talent to write a story about a knife, and keep the reader to the end. That’s why I read every post.

    • Karen

    I love my knives, too. I had a flatmate once, who used my chef’s knife to open a box, then deposited the knife back in the block. I discovered the atrocity when I pulled it out one day and it was covered in muck from the packing tape. We didn’t last long together, that flatmate and I.

    • David

    I, too remember Columbus Cutlery. I guess they are still there. I remember the nice elderly woman at the counter. I think her husband had retired by the time I got there and her son, or someone younger, was doing the sharpening. I still have an 8″ carbon steel chef’s knife by Sabatier that I bought in 1973. It’s a wonderful knife. I’ve become a fan of Japanese knives, but the 40-year old Sabatier is one of the few others that hold their own with the Japanese. Thanks for posting this and enjoy your Sabatier!

      • Tommy

      David, if you were buying knives in San Francisco today, what would you buy?

        • David
        David Lebovitz

        If you live in San Francisco, I’d go into a place like Columbus Cutlery (if they are still open), Bernal Cutlery, or a store like Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma, and see what feels good in your hand and fits your budget. There’s a lot of attention these days being paid to Japanese knives and while they are of high-quality, they are expensive and to me, don’t have the same heft as European makes. But that’s just a personal preference. You don’t need to spend a lot, but cheap knives aren’t a good investment in the long-run.

          • Tommy

          Thanks David, Columbus Cutlery is still with us and I’m going for for a sharpening. While I’m there, where else should I go? You sent me to Casa Orinda, a WINNER, so I trust your opinions!

            • David
            David Lebovitz

            I moved from SF in 2003/4 so best to ask a local. But R&G Lounge for salt & pepper crab (and stuffed tofu) is a favorite.

            • Tommy

            Thanks, you know better than most of us locals, I’ve lived here almost 20 years, Tony’s pizza is the best I’ve found! Lol

    • Sherrie H.

    I was given a Sabatier knife for a bridal shower gift back in the late 70’s. I am now on my third marriage, but I still have that beloved knife. It stood the test of time, whereas my first two marriages, alas, did not. I have given myself some good cuts over the years with it, but it is the best of the best. Enjoyed reading your piece.

    • Maryn

    What lovely remembrances, and great contributions from so many readers. I have never been able to identify the maker of my favorite knife, which came from my parents’ kitchen when we broke up their house after they died. It might be an ancient Sabatier, but the maker’s marque is a faint shadow at this point. Irrespective of its brand value, it is trustworthy and a perfect fit to my hand. (I wrote about it for the National Geographic food blog. There’s a picture of what might be the marque, if any knife obsessives care to look — it resembles a dragonfly.)

    • Stu Borken

    You write like I think. When I read your blog it’s as though I’m speaking. I read your words and hear my voice. I love my knives too. I bought a right handed bread knife at Poilane…it’s not my best bread knife, but it has the best memories.
    Be well and be safe in Paris.

      • Tommy

      Stu, It must seem crazy but I buy kitchen items on vacation, I think of the trip, the fun, the adventure buying them. Great memories.

      • Kiki

      Stu, couldn’t agree more with you. Always buy at least something on every ‘outing’ which gives me joy and memories, sometimes just for the time until I’ve eaten or drunk it, sometimes long lasting like your bread knife.

    • Erica

    Columbus Cutlery is still in the same place in North Beach. I take my knives there – but only once a yr- at the beginning of tomato season! It’s the only time of the yr I’m willing to risk my fingers…that said, my son is a professional chef and he takes his knives to Town Cutler. There is also a really nice guy who sharpens at some of the farmers markets and does a really good job. A true art. Whole Earth Access…I remember feeling so cool, and so poor every time I went into that store!

    • Mark Lawless

    Henckels31060 100mm
    Apparently discontinued
    very pointy silhouette

    does everything, even poultry if kept very sharp and you don’t saw

    You have to ask why they let great cars go out of production, and this is the same thing. Change is not improvement.

    • Catherine

    For budget knives, I really like the Kitchen Devil ones.

    • Bence

    Hope your 83’s zester is still in charge, David!

    • Rachel

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like people touching certain items in my kitchen. I feel so awkward about it sometimes, that I’ve taken to hiding certain things when people visit so I don’t weigh them down with excessive instructions on how to use things, haha. I just wrote a blog post about it (at my name link!)…I have to think I’m not the only one who hides kitchen tools from guests!

    • Michael Duffy

    I love your stories almost as much as I love your recipes! And the knife saga is quite amazing. Of course, as others have already mentioned, Columbus Cutlery is still here in SF. It should be on every visitor’s “go to” list. Also, I like that you mentioned Bernal Cutlery, which is where we purchase knife upgrades, and where our sharpening is done. Thank you, David, for another great post.

    • Peter

    I heard recently (from a very experienced chef) that the best people at knife sharpening come from Sardinia, which would explain the Italian accent. Not a single family, but a skill that is part of the community.

    He has two sets of knives: while he’s using one, the other set is being sharpened. After a couple of weeks, they swap sets and sharpen the others.

      • Gary

      Sardinia? Road trip!!! Now we have to figure out TSA and sneak thru!


Get David's newsletter sent right to your Inbox!


Sign up for my newsletter and get my FREE guidebook to the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris...