"I realized, at least in my mind, that we had similar sensibilities in what we like in a knife as far as look and function," says Wenzel, who started his knife company in 2015. "We got to talking about the industry and how chefs work hard and what we can do to get them great tools at a good price point. They deserve the best, and we want to get it to them."
The first knife in the pair's collaboration is a kiritsuke, or k-tip, a sleek design that incorporates two Japanese styles: the usuba (a thin, rectangular vegetable knife) and the yanagiba (a pointed blade used for slicing fish). Haas, who has a background in making the French-style goulet, brings her own way of fabricating the tilt and shape of the blade and creating the unique look and feel of the knife. Wenzel, who has been in the knife business for more than twenty years and is an expert on Japanese knives, added his own flare and knowledge to the design.
"We decided we wanted to take elements from our favorite knives since this whole project is an experiment, and we can't wait to see how chefs and home chefs respond," says Wenzel. "It's a true Heather Haas handcrafted knife, and she — we — went through the whole fit and finish on it."
Haas and Wenzel met last November after suggestions by both Wenzel's mom and a mutual friend, Eric Chiappetta, host of the Chef or Death podcast. "I was checking out his show, and he asked if I knew Heather Haas," Wenzel recalls. "He said she was a badass and I needed to meet her, so he introduced us."
Haas invited Wenzel to her shop; the two instantly connected and ended up talking for hours. Shortly after that conversation, they concocted a plan to collaborate. It took some time to get the ball rolling, since Haas was finishing up some projects as well as working on her own high-end line of knives and Wenzel was opening his knife stand at Broadway Market. Finally, at the beginning of 2020, they began creating the first piece in what they expect to become a full set of chef's knives.
They went through wood choices for the handles, design features and blade size, landing on an eight-inch blade of high carbon steel with a handle made out of katalox, also called Mexican royal ebony. The dense wood, says Haas, works well in the arid climate of Colorado and shouldn't dry out or split like some of the other options.
"I have been selling knives for a long time but never designed one, and this helped me discover the process to a greater depth," says Wenzel. "It has all the attributes you need for a workhorse of a knife."
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As in many current stories, as soon as Haas and Wenzel were ready to begin selling the knife, the coronavirus pandemic interrupted their plans, shutting down restaurants and leaving many of their potential clients either jobless or struggling to figure out how to handle drastically reduced business. In the meantime, Wenzel has offered free sharpening to anyone in need.
While the new blades, which start at around $325 (about $400 to $600 less than other Heather Haas blades), may be out of reach for many cooks right now, Haas and Wenzel hope the product reminds the industry that they are recognized and important.
"We can give these guys a great product that we spent countless hours and months designing," says Haas. "It's the best way we can show we support them, by making a badass knife."