Q&A: Moriah Cowles, Orchard Steel Knives

knives, Brooklyn, Moriah Cowles,

When you use something repetitively everyday, after a while you seldom seem to wonder who made it. For chefs and home cooks alike, a great knife means everything. The durability of the blade, the weight of the handle in your hand as you are slicing and dicing away, and the sharpness are major factors when handling a knife. You want a knife to best fit you, and Moriah Cowles, of Orchard Steel does just that. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Moriah recently and chat about her love for being a blade smith and creating the perfect balanced knife.

Name: Moriah Cowles

Job: Bladesmith and Owner of Orchard Steel LLC.

Large brown knife

Where did your love of knives come from and what made you get into creating knives?

It is sort of a round about story. I have always been in love with art and food. I grew up on an apple orchard in Vermont in a community of farmers and food loving people very connected to the land. I also have always loved art and had a need, not just a desire, but a need to make things with my hands. I found blacksmithing by accident while fulfilling an art credit at Colorado College. In the class I was able to sculpt red hot steel into table legs and hinges, providing the perfect marriage of art and function. I fell in love.

After college I went back to Vermont to work on the family apple orchard. Over the next three years I acquired a forge and anvil, took a couple classes in blacksmithing and spent 6 weeks apprenticing with a bladesmith during a bicycle trip through Mexico. It was during one of those moments of limbo, trying to work out my next step in life when I received an email from a friend living in Brooklyn. She connected me to another friend of hers, Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn, who makes beautiful high end kitchen knives in Gowanus. A month later I was in my truck, apple boxes packed with clothes, heading to Brooklyn. I worked with Joel for two years, learning so much from him and having a blast. I now have set up my own metal shop in Sunset Park where I make my own kitchen knives from start to finish, all in house. I forge, heat treat, grind, sharpen, make and fit and sculpt the handle pieces, epoxy it all together and finish the knives in the shop.

Moriah Cowles

A lot of knives are sometimes too heavy to handle accurately. How do you find the perfect balance?

I don’t have a formula, I think it’s just been a matter of practice and feel that only comes with time. Since my knives are all forged, each is a bit different, even the handle wood and its weight affects the balance. At first I had to work with each knife’s handle and blade weight to balance them piece by piece. Somehow after working through many designs and just making knife after knife, I have come up with a design and handle to blade ratio that produces a balanced knife. There are so many people out there with different preferences for knife designs, styles, weights and handle sizes. All I can do is make knives that feel good to me, that is my constant. Using my own preference as a base, I am then able to shift the design and add or subtract weight and bulk to the knife and handle upon request.

Examining the blade

Does your love of food effect how you construct and build a knife?
I think it would be hard to make a good kitchen knife without loving to cook; there would be too much disconnect. Food has always been a part of my roots, as well as my family’s livelihood. Since there’s not enough time in the day to be both a chef and a knife maker, I had to choose one. Fortunately I have been able to get friends and customers who take my knives into the kitchen with them and give me their feedback. It is a unending learning process, which I love. Plus, now when I cook at home, I have a great supply of sharp knives to use!

Where can the readers purchase your amazing knives? 

There is an online shop on my website where I post knives I have made already. Folks can also order knives from me by sending me an email with the size and handle wood preference. For now, my knives are on my website www.orchardsteel.com. If I decide to sell at any retail stores in New York or beyond, I will post it on the website as well!

The makings of the perfect knife

Where do you go for a no fail meal?

Honestly… home. If I can make it home when both of my roommates are there, without saying more than a couple of words about what we’re going to make together, we dance about the kitchen, talking about the day, chopping veggies, sautéeing onions, baking pastries...you name it. Somehow an incredible feast lines our table every time, and that blows my mind.

Smoothing out the blade

Check out some other Q&A Stories from the blog:

Local Inspiration: CUT Brooklyn

Q&A: Chef Alfred Green

Q&A: Alison Cross of Boxcar Grocer

Q&A: Chef Sylva Senat

Local Inspiration: Cut Brooklyn

Prior to culinary school, I thought a knife was just a pointy object used to open a package or to cut something in half. However, now that I am 8 months into my culinary arts training, I see knives differently. As Anthony Bourdain explains, "...its weight, its shape - these are all extensions of our arms, and in many ways, our personalities." A knife represents a relationship between a chef and his tool; and as my skills develop in the kitchen, I reached out to local craftsman, Joel Bukiewicz, the owner of Cut Brooklyn to learn more about knives.

MY JOURNEY FROM MANHATTAN TO CUT BROOKLYN

I relied on Google Maps and the F Train to get me to Brooklyn. I counted 10 stops until I reached 4th Avenue and realized I had left Manhattan once the subway went above ground.

When I exited the train, I reached into my pocket for my iPhone and noticed that Cut Brooklyn was only 2 minutes and 30 seconds away by foot– this made me happy. As I approached the workshop, I saw the signature logo on the glass pane: Cut Brooklyn.

As I approached the screen door, I recognized Joel immediately and gave a little knock. Should I enter? Am I disturbing work in progress? Joel told me to come in and I immediately felt like I was walking into his house for a cup of a tea. I took off my jacket and looked around the room; I saw a motorcycle, a long table with chairs, multiple knives being shipped off to their new homes, and a strong wooden block that holds all of the freshly cut knives for sale.

I pulled a beautiful lemongrass colored handle from its heavily magnetized block and took a good look at the 9-inch blade. As I rocked the carbon steel across the carrot, these thoughts came to mind: sharp, good weight, long blade, serious business, pretty rivets.

PURCHASING FROM CUT BROOKLYN:

Joel utilizes social media forums to vend his latest wares by posting a photo on the internet as soon as new knives are ready. If you’re interested in purchasing a handcrafted knife, I highly recommend that you stalk his Twitter handle @CUTbrooklyn before they sell out.

SIGNATURE KNIVES: Cut Brooklyn has a two-year waitlist for knife orders, but that left little room for creativity in the workshop. Joel is known for two signature knives: the Prospect 240 and Prospect 120 Petty, but he has also made boning, filleting, butchering, and one or two oyster knives. Since Joel and his team are passionate about building quality knives for their customers, they’ve abolished the wait list system and simply create knives they love.

VISIT CUT BROOKLYN:

461 3rd Ave Brooklyn, NY 11215

Located on 3rd Ave (between 29th and 30th Street) in Gowanus, Joel has public shop hours on Wednesday from 3-7pm and Saturday 12-5pm. Visit Joel and his team when you’re in Brooklyn or get in touch via email or Twitter.