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The Kitchen Cabinet

Getting An Edge

June 05, 1986|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

WARNING: Knives sharpened on the Chef's Choice will be sharper than you expect. Use them with great care.

A wise precaution . . . but a bit boastful, perhaps?

Nonetheless, take heed and believe. The little warning card that accompanies this new knife sharpener isn't kidding--you're in for a sharp treat. Chef's Choice, an innovative new diamond hone sharpener, claims to have an edge over all other knife sharpeners in the market.

Word about the "intelligence and charisma" of this revolutionary, but not inexpensive, kitchen "toy" has spread quickly among master chefs after its launching early this year, with orders coming in before shipments arrived.

Who invented this electric device?

A 65-year-old engineer from Wilmington, Del., Daniel Friel has long recognized the need for a foolproof sharpener after seeing so many dull knives in kitchens. "I am no gourmet cook," he said, "but my wife is and I just keep all her knives sharp."

Another inspiration to develop the gadget rose out of frustration with too many different knife sharpeners, manual and electric, that weren't performing. Friel said he first toyed with the idea about 15 years ago when he kept trying to sharpen a vintage Gerber tooled steel knife and got nowhere.

A former director of instruments and electronic products at DuPont, Friel quit his position to nurture his invention, later establishing Edgecraft Corp., a team of engineers, designers and marketing executives. Five years in the making, Chef's Choice evolved from 13 prototypes. The first attempt was a wooden enclosure with a diamond-coated abrasive plate driven with a conventional electric hand drill. "The orbiting principle was the key to giving an ultra-sharp edge to a knife," Friel said, "and diamonds were used because they were unique in removing metal at a reasonably rapid rate."

What finally evolved was a machine with a three-stage operation, equipped with three pairs of angled slots. In sets of two grooves (to accommodate the left and right side of a blade), the slots are housed in a black and white heavy plastic body that clings to counters with its rubber suction feet. High-tech and sleek, the body design was created by Edgecraft project designer Abraham Liedson, who also gave it a welcome appearance for any kitchen.

Each sharpening disk in the Chef's Choice has orbiting stones embedded with tiny diamond particles. Aside from being angled, the slots are also magnetized to guide the blade, making no room for error.

"A unique key element, magnets control the angle at which the knife should be held," Friel explained. "If you don't get a precise initial angle (which is guesswork with other sharpeners), you're really doing nothing. And if you go the other way, you could be damaging an edge." He added that with manual sharpeners, there's always some uncertainty and inconsistency, and although success can be achieved, a demanding skill is required.

The first stage of operation presharpens or grinds the blade to smooth nicks or other unevenness on the edge. To prolong the life of your knife, presharpening should be done only about once a year, or after 30 to 40 final sharpening stages. The blade is placed, handle-end first, at the rear of the left groove and then drawn slowly toward you. Keeping the edge parallel to the table, the knife can be raised slightly at the end to sharpen the tip. Repeat grinding in the right groove, alternating with the left about six times or until all burrs are shaved off.

The second stage is the sharpening operation, in which you subject the blades to the steady orbiting motion of the diamond stones.

Comparable to honing, the third stage gives a razor-sharp finished edge that is about one micron thick, or, according to the manufacturer, 1/100th the width of a human hair, yet very strong.

Chef's Choice performs equally well on stainless, high carbon or alloy steel knives of any hardness. The whole process should take about two minutes per knife, and about a minute longer for harder stainless steel knives. Although it will sharpen serrated knives, this is not advisable because the knives will be quickly worn down. Maintenance free, the machine does not need honing oils or water to lubricate any moving parts or the diamond surfaces.

The last two stages of the sharpening may be repeated about once a week or as needed. But for overzealous cooks who might easily develop a tendency to sharpen their knives every day, our little warning is: "Don't get carried away!" The Chef's Choice Diamond Hone Sharpener has a suggested retail price of $79.99 and is available at Barrington's Hardware, Advanced Cutlery (Puente Hills Mall and Lakewood Center Mall); it will be available next week for Father's Day at Robinson's department stores.

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