In some ways, St. Louis chef Nate Bonner has his fiancee to thank for the launch of his new business endeavor: custom-made knives.
While washing dishes one day, she used a “scrubby” on two of his most prized kitchen knives, a Saji and a Hiro. The improper cleaning left them in bad shape, sending Bonner into a tizzy.
“I wasn’t sleeping over it,” he says. “I was spending hours buffing the steel and grinding it down.”
During his repair work, Bonner ended up reshaping the knife, and the new look got him thinking: Why not create a line of his own?
“My whole career, I’ve been fascinated with knives,” says Bonner, who last year launched Chef’s Nate’s Table and formerly taught classes at Schnucks Markets' Schnucks Cooks Cooking School. “I’ve collected them since I was 9 years old. It’s easy to get drawn to one of the oldest tools in the world.”
The only thing that doesn’t appeal Bonner about knives: black handles. The mundaneness, as he refers to it, is something that’s bugged him since his culinary school days.
“In school, you’re just a guy in a white coat and hat, and you lose your identity really easily if you’re not careful,” Bonner says. “I had to completely shatter that.”
As such, the knives he’s custom designing and hand-crafting are, as he says, true “eye candy.” He’s collaborating on them with St. Louis artist Tom Stone, and the two are working local foods – like dried morel mushrooms – into the handles.
Bonner says he originally learned how to shape steel from a knife maker at the harvest festival in Silver Dollar City, where his parents had taken him once a year since his grade school days. He later bought two knives from the craftsman.
“I was obsessed with the knife maker and glass blower,” Bonner says. “It was about a year ago when the process was shown to me in detail and he custom-ground those knives for me.”
Bonner recently showcased some of the prototypes at Bertarelli Cutlery, and manager Dan Bertarelli gave him the inspiration to start selling them. Bertarelli Cutlery also came on board as exclusive distributor for St. Louis.
Bonner also will be selling the knives online. A website is in the works, with a launch date of Sun., Nov. 18, just in time for the holiday season. The knives also will be sold in small, independently owned shops in California, Vermont and New York.
Bonner’s knives will be available to home cooks and chefs alike - “those who desire more from their tools.”
The first production run will be hand signed and will consist of about 60 to 100 of each knife patterns. There will be custom blades available and three basic knives.
Pricing will range from $90 to $1,000, with the average chef knife running between $280 and $325.
“Our bulk steel is ground in the U.S., and all handles are made in St. Louis,” he says. “No crappy steel - you can choose from 52100 carbon or Abel stainless steel.”
Regarding the overall product, “every single handle on every knife will be 100-percent handmade,” Bonner says. “We do 100-percent of the shaping, so no handle is the same. Each knife will have a totally different personality.”
Releases of new knives will be seasonal, “coming out in waves like a menu from a restaurant,” he adds. “We will always have different specials and do different releases.”
Bonner also wants to promote collectability in the knives: “If you like the 2012 purple we do, you’ll only be able to get just that. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
We’ll let you know as soon as Bonner’s website is live.