Why write a book about kitchen knives? Because kitchen knives changed the world. Because they are the oldest and most important tool known to humankind. As Michael Symon wrote in A History of Cooks and Cooking, “The use of knives does not depend on culture, it is culture.” If you include our pre-human ancestors, we have been using kitchen knives for about two and a half million years. That’s a million years before fire became fashionable, just to put things into perspective. From those first crude stone edges to the sleek, ultramodern hardware lining the walls of your local kitchen emporium, knives allow us to perform the most basic human task – preparing and sharing food.
Two and a half million years ago Homo habilis (“handy man”) first started chipping crude stone tools, including cutting edges. These tools played a significant role in the massive evolutionary changes that quickly followed. The ability to butcher and share scavenged meat, much richer in calories and nutrients than a strictly plant-based diet, led to rapid brain development, interdependent communal living and improved communication skills. By the time the recognizably human Homo erectus hit the scene, they came equipped with big brains, advanced tools and the small teeth that indicate a diet based on pre-processed, i.e. cut up, food. Puts your chef’s knife in a new light, doesn’t it?
Knives are the cooks’ oldest tool, the most essential, the most trusted. Their whole purpose is sharing. Michael Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking
excerpted from the Introduction to”An Edge in the Kitchen”