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Dinner with a Master Bladesmith

IMG_3760 (1)A few months ago I stumbled upon a short video series entitled Raw Craft on You Tube sponsored by The Balvenie (a distillery located in Ireland producing a unique range of single malt whiskies). The series is hosted by Anthony Bourdain (the American chef, author and TV personality). To quote the Raw Craft web site, the video series features “an inspiring behind the scenes look inside the workshops of some of the most talented, creative and hardworking craftspeople in America. In The Balvenie spirit, Bourdain will uncover the true meaning of craftsmanship. Each film showcases artisans guiding him through the process while providing unique insight into the dedication and sacrifice required to produce everyday items by hand.”

Being a fan of Bourdain, I quickly watched all six mini-episodes, ranging in length from six to fourteen minutes. Episode four immediately piqued my interest because it was shot in Olympia, Washington – where I live. This episode featured Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer of Kramer Knives. He is one of a hundred and twenty-two Master Bladesmiths in the US, certified by the American Bladesmith Society and the ONLY one specializing in kitchen knives. His knives are some of the most sought after culinary knives in the world. To quote Bourdain, “The legendary Bob Kramer handcrafts the finest chef’s knives in the world. It would be inappropriate to call it the Rolls Royce or Ferrari of knives, because the type of car has not been invented that reflects this kind of quality… when you hold this thing in your hand, you feel a warm hum.”

For Bob himself to make you a custom knife forged in his Olympia shop, one must enter a lottery, where names are both chronologically and randomly selected from their website email list. We are talking hand crafted from beginning to end, in an average time of around 25 hours (give or take) for each knife. Even the steel is “made” from scratch. Using a baking analogy – this would be like making your own flour from scratch for a cake you are going to bake. Also, you are looking at a $300 an inch price tag – so an 8” chefs knife will cost you $2,400.00 Some people think that’s too much for a kitchen knife, but it depends on how you look at it. In my opinion his knives are works of art, and art is subjective. You can splurge on a Picasso or you can buy a painting from the guy down the street. It’s your choice, of course.

So needless to say, this guy makes pretty awesome knives. Fast forward a few weeks. My husband and I were in a Sur la Table store in Seattle. I was handling a few of the “more affordable and easier to acquire” Kramer Knives, partnered with Zwilling J.A. Henckels, made in Japan. Walking out of the store I informed my husband that I would be wishing for a Kramer 8″ Stainless Damascus Chef’s Knife by Henckels ($400) for Christmas. A few weeks after that, in the home of our neighbors, I learned that these very neighbors are Bob’s mother and father-in-law. How random is that? My head nearly exploded!

Christmas morning my husband (and the culinary gods) gifted me my very own 8” Kramer chef knife. I nearly fell out of my chair with glee! At that moment, I thought there’s no harm in inviting everyone to a dinner party. And so with a Go Big or Go Home attitude, I drafted a letter stating my intention of selfishly wanting to meet Mr. Kramer, and offering to host Mr. Kramer, his wife Leanne, as well as Gloria and Skip (his mother and father-in-law) to my house for dinner. Less than 24 hours later, I not only had my answer, I had a date, a time, as well as a few dietary restrictions. Go Big or Go Home indeed! Challenge accepted!

To give you some perspective on how coveted Kramer knives are in the culinary world – many 3-Michelin star Chefs have a Kramer Knife. Bob is hosted all over the world to culinary events, haute couture meals (the kind that are 5 hours long and plated with tweezers) and is invited to the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. He was featured on Bravo’s Top Chef, and CBS did a special on him. In 1998, food magazine Saveur helped to launch Kramer Knives with a feature article (link below) and most recently he received The Balvenie Rare Craft Fellowship Award in 2015. Needless to say, I’m sure you can imagine my slight nervousness at entertaining a culinary Rock Star in my home!

The most difficult aspect for me was coming up with a gluten and dairy free dessert that consisted of more than just fruit. I scoured my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and found the perfect sweet.

Menu
Apps: Thyme-Roasted Marcona Almonds & Kir Royal
Main: Balsamic Roasted Beef
Canlis Salad (w/Romano cheese on the side)
Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes
Desert: Fresh Raspberry Grantins

On the morning of the event, I woke up and made a mental T-minus countdown clock in my head. As fate would have it, the day would not be complete without a bit of drama. Shortly after eating breakfast, Michael (my husband) informed me that the hot water heater was leaking from one of the copper pipes and there was a bit of a watery mess. After cleaning up the water, and a call to an emergency plumber, I took off for the grocery. After I returned, Michael helped me prep the salad and potatoes. Time seemed to inch closer and closer as I continued to get ready for the evening.

Version 2Within seconds of their arrival, my nerves and anxious energy were put at ease. Bob, Leanne, Gloria and Skip were all so kind, gracious and complimentary. Everyone was very personable and down to earth. Unbeknownst to me, our opening beverage, a Kir Royale, (a French apéritif) is one of Bob and Leanne’s favorite drinks, so I got extra points for that. When Bob carved the meat, I was pleased to see it was a nice medium to medium rare. I drizzled a balsamic reduction over the plated meat slices and roasted potatoes. I was a little disappointed in my plate presentation, however everything was flavorful, the meat retained it’s moisture, and the salad was the perfect punch of fresh, crisp, and lemon acidity from the vinaigrette.

The Fresh Raspberry Gratins needed to be made-to-order essentially, so I had to excuse myself to make them. Leanne was kind enough to assist me in the kitchen. The gratins consisted of raspberries and a sabayon – a light, mousse-like dessert that’s made by whisking egg yolks, sugar and sweet Marsala wine over gently boiling water until the eggs thicken to resemble loose whipped cream. I sprinkled sugar over the sabayon and berries in individual gratin dishes and caramelized the sugar with a culinary torch to get a bit of a crunchy texture. The dessert also received rave reviews.

All in all, I believe the evening was a success! The conversation varied from food to knives, back to food, travel, pets, relationships, bees, and much in-between. I really treasured this experience and was thrilled to host such amazing people in my home. I grew as a hostess and as a person from this – as I tend to do each time my life is enriched by a shared meal with great people. My eyes are wider, my perspective is broadened, my soul is nourished and my heart is filled with warmth and compassion. Never underestimate the power of a shared meal – whether it’s in a 3-Michelin star restaurant, a food truck with plastic lawn chairs, or in your own home with a crackling fire, wine, music and food cooked with love.

Bon Appétit!

 

Raw Craft You Tube Video

Saveur article on Bob Kramer
http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Master-of-the-Blade

Kramer Knives
http://www.kramerknives.com

The Balvenie Raw Craft
https://us.thebalvenie.com/raw-craft

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