In New Orleans’s Carrolton neighborhood, there’s a covered purple building down the street from a Mellow Mushroom. Inside lies one of the country’s best curated collection of Japanese chef’s knives.
Coutelier NOLA, about six miles from the city’s French Quarter, is the passion project of former professional chefs Brandt Cox and Jacqueline Blanchard, who met at the city’s Restaurant August, and neither of whom lack chefly experience — Blanchard worked at French Laundry, Bouchon, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Benu (that’s eight Michelin stars for those counting), while Cox worked under the likes of David Burke, John Besh and Corey Lee.
The shop (which has a sister store in Nashville) carries knives from larger manufacturers like Mac and Tojiro, but specializes at seeking out and identifying the country’s best craftsmen and bringing their wares stateside. Names like Takeda, Takamura, Fujiwara, Takeshi Saji and more fill the walls and lockboxes, all multigenerational bladesmiths (some going back more than 20 generations) making what are, according to Cox and Blanchard, the best knives in the world.
“We obviously had a ton of experience with kitchen knives working in kitchens for so long. We’ve cooked with horrible tools and great tools, and, to us, the knives that come out of Japan are just on a different level,” Cox says.
The co-owners travel to Japan yearly to visit and learn from the makers of the knives they sell, as well as scout out newer, less known craftsmen in the country. Cox says, “Our main goal is to only sell knives that perform up to our standards, and maybe shed some light on the quality of work done by makers people wouldn’t get to see otherwise.”
According to Cox, they chose Japanese knives because of what they see as an undying loyalty to performance above anything else. Traditionally, Japanese blades are sharper, thinner and lighter than their European counterparts (read more about this here). Here are three knives, at three different price points, that Cox recommends to chefs new and old.
Tojiro DP Series Gyuto
The most accessible of the three knives is a Good Design Award-winning, three-ply knife that, according to Cox, is “one of the best price-to-performance value knives we’ve tested or stocked.” Cox recommends it as good introductory knife for the aspiring chef or home cook, as the VG10 stainless steel makeup gives you the corrosion and wear resistance of a typical stainless steel and the hardness of a higher carbon steel.
Takamura Tsuchime Santoku
Made in Echizen, Japan and in the traditional Japanese sanmai style, this Takamura knife is comprised of three layers of steel, the middle layer being the primary slicing area, while the top and bottom layers act as high-set secondary edges. “I’m selling $300, $400 and $500 knives that don’t perform to this standard,” Cox says.
Kikiuichi Nickel Damascus Gyuto
“You could write a book on this knife and the people who made it, but I think you get the idea by just looking at it,” Cox says. Kikiuichi is a 750-year-old bladesmithing house in the Nara Prefecture of Japan, but it’s only been making kitchen knives for the last century-and-a-half. Its website reads: “…the origins of our company go back to 13th century when the emperor Go-toba chose our family ancestor, Shiro Kanenaga, to be one of his swordsmiths. Because of the quality of his blades he was granted the right to use the royal symbol of the Chrysanthemum flower or Kiku-no-mon as a mark of their excellence on his blades. This symbol is still recognized in Japan for its connection to the royal family and you will find the Chrysanthemum flower on all our cutlery.” This particular Kikiuichi blade is fitted to an octagonal rosewood Wa handle. It also uses SUS410 steel and features a hammered nickel Damascus finish.