Like something out of a chef's fantasy (or maybe Edward Scissorhands's), Adam Simha's North Cambridge studio brims with blades waiting to slice, dice, chop, and fillet. There's no other place like it in Boston, and precious few left in the world. Massachusetts was once a center of artisanal and factory knife making, but the Japanese market displaced domestic demand; now only two knife companies are left in the Bay State. Simha would like to bring artisanal knife making back. He has just finished designing a new line of Massachusetts-made knives for All-Clad, and he has a busy practice designing custom knives for chefs like Ana Sortun, Jason Bond, Jody Adams, Jamie Bissonnette, and Will Gilson, not to mention the ice knives at Barbara Lynch's Drink. And he just wrapped an Indiegogo campaign that will soon let him launch a retail line of handcrafted knives based on favorite custom designs. We stopped by the studio for a preview and a few pointed questions.
Why do you make knives? It is pretty simple for me. There is so much stuff that we just make do with. To make something that fits in your hand and works perfectly for the job intended is a joy.
How did you get here? It was a journey. I majored in physics, which was such a compelling thing to study — and pretty handy for designing knives and blades. But I liked food, too, and went right to work at Michaela's restaurant after college. That was my first real restaurant job, not counting the F&T Diner in Kendall Square, where I worked in college. Then came a turn as a baker at Clear Flour Bread and at Stan Frankenthaler's Salamander. I had started doing metal sculpture in the early '90s, taking classes at Mass College of Art, and I came across this amazing class called "Blade Smithing." It fused instantly with my interests — physics, food, and making beautiful things with my hands. My metalsmith professor warned me: "Knife making is a disease for which there is no cure." I laughed it off. But 14 years later, here I am, still making knives.
What is it about men and knives? Well, it isn't just men. A beautiful knife knows no gender. There are women who have just as much enthusiasm for knives as men. Although in knife making, women seem to prefer forging, where you take a piece of steel, heat it, squish it, and hammer it into something, versus men, who seem to go for stock removal, where you start with a metal sheet and precision-cut the knife. No difference between the two — just the artisan's preference. A hand-forged knife, well done, is an amazing and often superior tool. . . . You can pry a car door open with a piece of perfectly forged steel and not ruin the blade.
What makes a perfect knife? So many different answers. I do an exercise with my design students-, and they always look at me quizzically. I hand them a perfectly sharpened knife and tell them to think of the whole-arm motion and cut through a tomato or an apple. When the blade is right and sharp, they make an involuntary sound, an "Aaah." A sound of delight. A perfectly sharpened knife should cut through paper with no pressure. But for God's sake, don't expect the steel that comes with your knife block to give you that kind of edge. To keep it sharp, you'll need a whetstone and some instruction.