Legendary Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer spends his days forging top-of-the-line kitchen knives in his Washington-based shop. His work has been featured in Saveur, Bon Appetit, The New Yorker, GQ, and Vogue, as well as on Bravo’s Top Chef. He is one of 120 master bladesmiths in the United States. To get their hands on one of Bob’s knives, customers have spent years on waiting lists and paid thousands of dollars. He spoke with us via phone about cooking knives, onion skin, and the Kramer tattoo.
What’s the coolest thing about being a Master Bladesmith?
Playing with fire on a daily basis! It’s a very track-able, tangible art, from the inception of a piece to completion. I think a lot of people today work in IT or are a part of a process, but they never get to see the end result. I’m kind of old fashioned, I really love to see the finished product and that it’s a tool that’s going to be taken care of and used for a couple of generations. And I love that its main duty is making food for people.
What’s the one thing that everyone should know about cooking knives?
Definitely to keep them sharp. The knife has one purpose: to cut food with precision. I feel like most people today have never been introduced to how easy it is to keep your knife sharp. We have expectations about when to turn our computer on or off or how often to clean your clothes or wash your car. Those things are all at the forefront of our minds, but we’ve lost the connection with simple tools that make a huge difference in how pleasurable it is to cook at home. It’s not so much that you have to possess an expensive or high-end knife. Even relatively inexpensive knives that are kept sharp will work so much better.
What’s one of your favorite things to slice a Kramer Knife through?
A tomato. It’s such a great test of a knife, especially if the tomato is a little on the soft side because the skin has a toughness to it, a resiliency, and if your knife isn’t sharp it will just sort of squish the tomato. But if the blade is very sharp it will blaze through the skin and there is a sense of awe when it does that; there is a clear recognition of how clean the tool is. And another good test is an onion skin. It’s a slick, papery surface, and if your knife is dull, it will slide off of the onion. When the knife’s sharp, it will grab into the skin and easily bite through it.
What goes into a really great knife?
Design is way up there, followed by materials and technique. So if we start with a good design, something that’s very comfortable and functional, and then we follow it with a material like a simple steel that will take on a good hardness and remain stable even when it’s thin, those things will provide you with a tool that can last a very long time.
Last but not least, do you have one of those infamous Kramer Tattoos?
Ah, no not an actual one. I am getting a new tattoo, but it won’t be that exact design.
Check out Bob’s story and work here.