Do you really need a long utility knife in your kit? What are the pros and cons and why do professionals usually choose longer Gyuto or Chef’s knives?
This was a question recently posed to me by a customer. The customer was not a professional chef and wanted a Gyuto for home use. This was going to be the main knife in the kitchen, the 90% knife. So, I gave him the same advice I give my friends and family, the same advice I am going to give you now.
With regard to utility knives, I have two 165mm Santoku’s and a 240mm Gyuto as well as a 90mm and 150mm Petty in my home kitchen.
This is a very personal subject from my perspective. I actually know many professional chefs that prefer to work with shorter blades, like a Santoku, Bunka or smaller Gyuto. You have to ask yourself, what do I use my knife for?
For me it’s like this. I need a large blade when it comes to cutting a large object. So, if I am cutting through a large melon or cabbage then the longer blade is great. I also prefer the longer blade for slicing terrines and large pieces of meat. When slicing these types of produce you want more length in order to achieve a single stroke as you want to avoid sawing and tearing. Just watch a sushi chef cut fish. They pull the long Yanagiba or Sujihiki blade towards themselves in a single slicing motion to avoid damaging the delicate flesh of the fish.
So, this is where it gets interesting. You might be saying to yourself, I don’t really cut melons and cabbages very often, what do I need such a big knife for?
Well, the thing is, I love my 240mm Tanaka Gyuto, it’s a beautiful knife to use and in the end, there is nothing I cannot do with it. The truth is I use my Santokus 90% of the time though. A Santoku has a good flat section with a nice amount of rock-ability. The 165mm length makes it nimble and easy to wield on a daily basis and the heal to spine height is substantial enough to give me a comfortable amount of clearance. I also find that when speaking with my customers many amateur cooks feel more comfortable with the smaller blade.
With regard to what I spend most of my time cutting, its onions, herbs, small vegetables and smaller pieces of meat. This is my 90%. Then a few times a year I cook a brisket or something else large in size and make coleslaw or something along those lines, then I pull out the Gyuto and use it to chop through the large cabbage. When the meat comes off the grill, I like to use my Sujihiki slicer to carve, but I could just as easily use the Gyuto.
For the above reasons, when I advise my friends and family what knives to buy, usually I suggest that buying a Santoku or a smaller Gyuto like a 180mm or 210mm is a good place to start. I also often suggest purchasing a petty as I would say that the petty is the second most commonly used knife in my kitchen. A smaller Gyuto, Santoku or Bunka plus a Petty are the perfect two knives to have on the work bench when cooking dinner.
To cover the professional perspective, it is true that the majority of professional chefs prefer a 240mm Gyuto. The reason is that, as per the above outlined use cases, a larger Gyuto somewhat covers all situations and so allows the chef to have only one knife out on the work bench. This is part of the training and reduces clutter, is safer and more hygienic in the professional kitchen. In the home kitchen you have more flexibility. You are not working in an environment filled with other chefs and you can have more of your knives out on the work bench without worrying about safety. You are in no rush and so you can work with knives that are directly suited to what you are doing.
As I said earlier in this post it’s a personal thing. I have also observed that taller, larger people are more comfortable with larger blades.
Kitchen Knives – Kitchen knife construction part two
In part one of this two-part post on kitchen knife construction we covered balance, with a focus on the tang, and the two categories of steel that are used in kitchen knife construction. We also detailed a list of some of the more popular steels that are used in good quality kitchen knives with specifications on hardness, easy of sharpening and edge retention.
This is part three in our series on kitchen knives and concludes our two-part post on kitchen knife construction. In this post we will cover the various Cladding types, Grinds and Handles. If you have already read our posts on Kitchen knife basics, and part one of kitchen knife construction you will have a pretty good idea of what you are looking at when you pick up a knife. By the end of this post you should be able to, at a glance, visually discern how a knife is built, how well balanced a knife is and if that balance and design suites your needs.
Cladded or Core-less?
A couple of other terms that you might hear as you shop for kitchen knives are cladded and core-less or mono-steel. These two terms relate to the way the blade of a knife is forged. A vast majority of knives on the market are produced from a single sheet of flat steel, which has the blades of the knives punched out of it. The blade is then cleaned up on a grinder or sanding belt, heat treated and sharpened. This is a core-less knife and is a technique used by mass production knife makers.
Core-less knives are also made in the premium market. Sometimes this means that the steel has been forged into the shape of the knife via heat, hammer and anvil. Other times this means that the knife has still been cut from a sheet of metal. Either way the knife is formed from a single piece of steel.
Traditional Damascus knives are core-less knives. Two or more pieces of steel are forge welded together and folded many times to produce the beautiful and strong, multilayered effect. However, many modern blades, which have a Damascus finish are simply Damascus clad and another more pure and hardy steel is sandwiched into the core of the knife. Often this is visible if you look at the spine of the knife or cladding line.
In Japanese this technique is call San Mai and is a very popular technique for producing beautiful, strong and ultra-sharp blades. San Mai allows the blacksmith to forge the blade from a very hard steel, often a high carbon steel, and then add a protective stainless-steel cladding to the outside of the blade. These knives are often more expensive than straight high carbon steel blades, but they benefit from the advantages of both high carbon steel and stainless-steel.
Blacksmiths use Damascus for the cladding because it is so beautiful, hard and resists rust. However, there are several other steels used and often the blacksmith will finish the blade with some kind of decorative hammer work, which is called a Tsuchimi or hammered finish. Like the Damascus, Tsuchimi, looks very nice and actually both finishes also have another practical purpose other than to protect the core of the blade. The uneven texturised outer layer also helps to stop food sticking to the outside of the blade.
Blade Geometry (Grind)
Kitchen knives come in a myriad of blade geometries and, while there is a selection of more traditional or popular designs, knife designers are getting more and more experimental when it comes to blade geometry. Blade geometry will play a significant role in the way that the blade of a knife moves through a given material. Blade geometry can become quite complex, but basically comes down to two main elements. There is the bevel and the edge. The bevel is the angle of the knife and not to be confused with the angle of the edge. An easy way to differentiate between the two is to understand the bevel angle is not active in the cutting process, but more about pushing the already cut material away from the knife. The edge on the other hand is all about actively cutting through the material.
90% of all the mainstream branded knives you will find on the market will have a Double Bevel. However, some knives, especially those produced for the Japanese market come with a Single Bevel. Rarer still is an Asymmetrical or Differential Bevel, but this is becoming more popular in the hand forged and premium knife market. As described above the bevel plays a role in moving the cut material away from the knife.
A Double Bevel will part the material evenly. This is good for general purpose knives like a chef’s knife or Gyuto and isn’t really going to provide any extra advantage to a particular cutting task but works well for the more common kitchen tasks.
A Single Bevel is design to move material to one particular side, either the left or right depending on whether it is a left handed or right handed blade. Single bevel knives are typically designed for slicing and butchering meats and fish. Yanagiba or Yanagi (Japanese Sashimi knife), Deba (Japanese Fish Filleting Knife) and Nakiri or Nagiri (Japanese Vegetable knife) are common single bevel blades. In all three cases the single bevel is essential in performing the tasks the knives are produced for. As a side note all three of these knives often have a hollow grind (Urasuki) on the back side of the blade, we will discuss this a little more in the next section.
Like the Double Bevel an Asymmetrical or Differential Bevel is not really used on special purpose blades and is mostly found on more general-purpose knives. Often these knives have a larger angle bevel on the front side and a more acute angle on the back side of the blade. This design could be seen as some form of a compromise between the Double and Single bevel designs. Asymmetrical blades are often seen as more premium blades, but really it boils down to personal preference. You could argue that if you do a lot of slicing work in the kitchen then an Asymmetrical blade would benefit your needs, while those who do a lot of chopping would prefer a double bevel knife.
Flat and Convex
Once a blacksmith or knife designer has chosen double, single or asymmetrical grind they may wish to consider whether to simply give the knife a Flat edge or a Convex edge. This is a question of sharpness or rather what you consider sharpness and again it is probably also a question of how the knife will be used.
A Flat edge will be as described the surface of the edge is completely flat. This gives the knife a very acute angle but adds surface area to the blade and there for more drag. A convex grind is curved to the edge. This gives a far smaller surface area, but a wider cutting angle.
So, which is sharper? Technically you could argue that the flat grind with its more acute cutting angle is sharper, but because of the added drag that the greater surface area brings you might argue that the convex grind is sharper. So, once again it boils down to usage.
Note: The flat grind is much easier to sharpen.
Knife handles come in a myriad different shapes and sizes, they are made from almost every material imaginable. Knife handles play an important role in terms of ergonomics and fatigue reduction. Knife handles also help in terms of style and character and they provide a contact point, a tactile surface that allows us to wield and manipulate our kitchen knives.
Although there are a lot of variations, kitchen knife handles come in two basic shapes. There is the traditional western style, which offers ergonomic contours designed to support and fit the fingers and palm of the user’s hand. Then there is the Japanese Wa handle, which is often a hexagonal, octagonal or “D” shaped cylindrical handle. The ridges of the Wa handle also serve to fit and support the user’s hand and the cylindrical form makes it easy to manipulate the blade as it can be rolled between the user’s fingers.
Kitchen knife handles come in an almost endless variety of woods, bones, bonded composite and plastic materials, as well as metals. There are only three main points to consider here.
Firstly, if you are a professional chef there may be some regulations on the types of material you are allowed to work with. Hygiene is of particular concern and should be considered before making your purchase, but don’t be too quick to rule out a wooden handle. Some woods contain natural antibacterial properties and could actually be better than plastics or composite materials. Additionally most wooden handles are coated and even impregnated with oils that provide an antibacterial seal.
Secondly, and this is important, is comfort and ergonomics. If you are purchasing a hand-forged blade or you are a professional chef, the last thing you want is a poorly designed handle that lacks the ergonomics needed to keep you comfortable.
Finally, is looks or style. This is not a major point in terms of practicality, but let’s face it, if you are looking to purchase a premium or hand-forged kitchen knife, which you might end up passing on to your kids, style is going to be meaningful.
The bolster is mostly found on the western style handles and can be a quite nice feature. The bolster or in some cases bolsters can be found at the front of the handle and sometimes at the end of the handle (bolsters at the end of the handle are some times called a pommel). A bolster serves two purposes. Firstly, they help to reinforce the handle and secondly, they can help to balance the knife by increasing weight at the rear to offset the weight at the tip.
However, if a forward bolster extends into a finger guard, while this can be comforting for a hobby cook, as your knife skills improve you may find the finger guard reduces the versatility of the knife. This is particularly true in terms of long slicing cuts, where the finger guard reduces the length of the potential slicing movement.
The ferrule is a feature most commonly found on the Japanese Wa handle and is in almost the same position as a forward bolster. A ferrule is simply used to increase the strength of the handle at its most vulnerable point. Often a ferrule is used to give a Wa handle a unique feature and style and is often made out of rare woods, bone, and even coral or stone can be found on some artisan handles.
Western or Wa which is best?
Really, this comes down to taste, comfort and purpose.
More often than not western style knife handles are harder to make and harder to replace if they become damaged. Often a western handle is fastened with pins and glue and essentially this means that if it becomes damaged you will need to send it back to the manufacturer.
The handle on the Japanese Wa handle slides over the tang and is fastened with epoxy resin or some other bonding agent and so if it becomes damaged can even be replaced at home.
In terms of comfort the Wa handle is also more flexible. Some cooks may find that western style handles are too small or big in terms of the ergonomic ridges and general shape and length. Essentially, they are designed to fit a typical or statistical majority and don’t necessarily fit with every hand shape or size. The Wa handle on the other hand, while less focused on every contour of the hand is often a comfortable one size fits all shape and length.
So, by know if you have been following our series on kitchen knives you should have a fairly good understanding of how they are made and how the various design elements will affect their balance, ergonomics and usage. If you missed any of the previous chapters on the basics or the first half of this two part post on kitchen knife construction feel free to jump back at any time.
Kitchen Knives – Kitchen knife construction part one
Understanding quality in kitchen knives can be a challenge. In order to do this, you need to understand the techniques used to give a knife balance and how the various materials, used in their construction, come together in the forging process to create high performing knives.
After reading part one of our guide to kitchen knife construction you should be able to determine if a knife is well balanced and how that balance has been achieved. After briefly discussing kitchen knife steel in our previous post on the basics of kitchen knives we will also be discussing, in detail, kitchen knife steels in this post. We will cover how the steel a knife is made of will dictate how it will perform and how you must care for it.
Knives are the most important tool in the kitchen and regardless of whether you are a professional chef or a home cook you should have good quality and well-maintained knives. A sharp, good quality knife is much safer to work with and yields far better results than poor quality, blunt knives will.
We hope that this article is both useful and informative. This is part two in a series that so far has covered the basics of kitchen knives. Our goal with this series is not to create a guide to forging knives, but an extensive guide to purchasing, using, and caring for them. This guide is for home cooks and professional chefs alike and hopefully serves as a useful resource.
How kitchen knife construction will affect balance and comfort.
There are a number of elements in a kitchen knife which a blacksmith can adjust or manipulate in order to give a kitchen knife balance. The tang for example, which is the metal which extends from the heel end of the blade through the handle, can be made larger or smaller in order to offset the weight of the blade. Some terms you may have heard while shopping for knives are Full Tang, Half Tang and Through Tang. These terms describe how the tang of the knife has been designed. If it is a full tang it extends the full length of the handle and often exhibits the same profile as the handle. A half tang, as you would assume, only runs half the length of the handle. A through tang runs through the centre of the handle and is often not visible. The through tang is often found on Japanese style knives and is generally the smallest tang you will find.
What does all this tell you as a user of kitchen knives. Simply this, on a well-balanced knife the tang needs to offset the weight of the blade and a smaller tang means a thinner, lighter blade and vis-a-versa.
On a long blade, like a Gyuto or a Sujihiki (Slicer), the knife maker only has a limited amount of material at the tang, which can be added to offset the weight, and balance the blade. To overcome this the knife maker will reduce the amount of material at the spine of the blade to reduce the blades weight. Conversely, on smaller knives the blacksmith may remove less material.
Another technique, which is commonly used, is distal tapering. Distal tapering is characterised by a thinning of the blade or the tang or both from the desired balance point to the end of the blade or tang. Distal tapering can also help to create a more desirable and better performing blade geometry. We will discuss blade geometry in part two of our guide to kitchen knife construction.
Which steel is best for me?
In our previous post covering the basics of kitchen knives we introduced the topic of steel and the two main categories of steel, being high carbon steel and stainless steel. We briefly described how each of these two steels perform and the key characteristics that define them. A particular steel is going to perform differently depending on how the blacksmith treats it. Steel manufacturers will imprint a selection of characteristics on a given type of steel. They will then give a guideline, which will help a blacksmith to manipulate the metal to get the desired result they are looking for. Naturally, in factory conditions, each knife will be very similar. As will be the case with experienced blacksmiths. However, it cannot be simply said that a particular steel will perform in a certain way for every knife that is made out of it.
So, with that in mind we are going to follow a different course to that which many other writers have followed. We will still list off a few of our favourite steels and briefly describe their typical characteristics, but instead of focussing on creating a definitive list we will focus on describing the differences between High-Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel and why you might choose one over the other. From our perspective, as chefs and home cooks, all we need to be concerned with are two key points. What is the hardness of the steel and is it stainless steel or high carbon? These two points will define how we must care for a particular knife (cleaning and sharpening) and how we can expect it to perform in terms of sharpness and edge retention.
High carbon steels require regular cleaning during and after use. These steels are susceptible to rust and are particularly vulnerable to highly acidic produce, lemons for example will cause an almost immediate patina to form on the blade of a high carbon steel knife. Professionals who work with these knives often have two cleaning clothes on hand, one wet and one dry. The wet cloth is used intermittently to remove any acidic liquid or produce build up on the blade between slices and the dry cloth is used at the end of a task to ensure the knife is dry between uses. This is a good habit to form, both in terms of your knife’s health and in terms of hygiene and flavour cross contamination. Most professionals should be practicing this process regardless of which type of steel their knives contain.
If you plan on storing your high carbon steel knives for an extended period, you should coat them with some form of protective oil (Camellia Oil or Tsubaki Oil). Moisture in the air will eventually cause rust and an oil coating is a good way to protect them for longer periods. Although not as important, stainless steel knives (actually only stain resistant) could also benefit from this.
Regardless of how well you care for your high carbon steel knives they will eventually develop a patina and if you do not care for them properly, they will develop rust. The patina is not of concern and for some it is a mark of pride, but rust can cause long term, sever and permanent damage to the knife. Stainless steel knives still need to be cared for, but they do not require the same attention as described above.
Although it is not definitive, on average high carbon steels can be hardened to higher Rockwell ratings. Harder steels can hold significantly more acute edge angles and therefor can be much sharper and maintain that sharpness for much longer periods. While, softer steels are not capable of holding the same angles and sharpness, the edge they do hold is more durable. However, as you will discover as we go through some of the popular knife steels below many stainless steels can be hardened to just as high Rockwell ratings as their high carbon counterparts.
A couple of quick points about stainless steel before we list of some of the more popular types and their characteristics. High carbon steels if not properly used can tarnish food with a very slight metallic flavour and discoloration. This is not often discernible to most palates, but it is worth noting. This is not something that you should be concerned with in terms of health and really only occurs if the user does not follow a strict knife cleaning process like the one mentioned above. Stainless steel does not suffer from these issues. Stainless steels are also highly recyclable.
It’s really not worth mentioning all the different types of steel that are available, but below we have listed a few of the more popular types that you will see around as you shop for kitchen knives.
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That’s it for this post. We use kitchen knives that are constructed out of both high carbon and stainless steels in our kitchen and they are constructed using a variety of different methods. The purpose here is not to define a specific material or construction method and label it as best, but to educate you and help you develop an intuition for what suits you and your needs. In part three of our knife series we will continue to discuss knife construction and delve into the topics of cladding, geometry and handles.
In every cook’s life there will come a time when they become sick of using their cheap supermarket kitchen knives and feel the need to upgrade. Cheap knives, made with cheap steel always seem to be blunt, often have poor ergonomics and balance and in the end yield poor results when it comes to fine knife work.
However, once you open Pandora’s box and begin to research high quality kitchen knives you are bombarded with endless information and questions. In the end it all boils down to personal comfort. However, usage and objectives can have a big impact on your decision and so throughout this series of articles we will be covering various aspects of what we believe to be the most important weapon in the chef’s armory, the kitchen knife.
Disclaimer: the kitchen knife is not a weapon and should not be used as such. 😉
In this first article we will cover the basics of, price, construction materials, handles and blade balance as well as the essentials knife types every cook should have. If you’re just looking for some quick guidance on which knives every cook should have skip to the end and check out our guide on essential knives.
Buying new kitchen knives is a complex and personal decision, but no buyers guide would be complete without a word on price. Based on our experience €100-€150 should get you a good quality French chef knife or Japanese Gyuto in a reasonable quality stainless steel.
However, as you will find it all depends on your needs. Better steels can yield better results in terms of sharpness and edge retention, better steels cost more money. There is also craftsmanship, high-end, hand forged knives tend to have better ergonomics and balance and once again this will cost more money.
Finally, aesthetics, typically the hand forged blades simply look amazing and at a certain point your simple, practical kitchen knife can cease being a simple kitchen tool and become an artwork. So, in the end the sky is the limit in terms of price, but we think €100-€150 is a good starting point if you are looking for something that will last a life time (with care) and maintain a reasonably sharp edge.
Construction – Materials – Balance
Generally speaking your standard kitchen knife consists of two main components, the blade and the grip or handle. Realistically these two components are all there is and all that matter. However, there are a huge variety of different handles and methods for constructing kitchen knife blades, not mention the myriad different shapes, and these will have a large impact on the ergonomics of the knife.
There are honestly too many different designs to count, but essentially, they come in two different forms. The most common handle type is the typical western style found on most of the famous brands like the those produced in Germany and other parts of western Europe. Then there are Japanese Wa handles, which have a cylindrical shape and tend to be longer in length than the typical western handle. Wa handles come in a D shape or a hexagonal/octagon shape both have a very comfortable feel to them. Some manufacturers have begun to develop other shapes and forms like the 3D handles on the VG10 range produced by Tanaka Knives, which was developed in partnership with the Kobe Design University. The university used 3D modelling to map the human hand and developed a handle that would be both comfortable and suitable for professional use.
Knife handles come in a range of different materials like various woods, plastics and bonded materials. For most people this is not a big concern, but if you are working in a professional kitchen you may have some restrictions or guide lines which you must abide by. Handles like the micarta handles on the Tojiro Senkou range of knives and the black plastic on the Güde knives are FDA and HACCP friendly. In the end handle material will affect two aspects of your purchasing decision. Looks and feel.
We’re not going to get too deep into blade construction in this article, but we will write a more detailed post in the future on the subject for those interested. Essentially there are a couple of factors you should concern yourself with and they are the blade hardness, and whether the blade is constructed out of Stainless or Carbon Steel.
The blade hardness will determine how durable the knife is and how sharp the blade can become. Blade hardness is measured on a hardness scale known as the Rockwell scale. The Rockwell scale measures the tensile strength of a material through applied force and the results are given as a numerical value which will typically range from about 58-68 in kitchen knives. 58 is pretty soft and 68 is really hard. Most good quality knives will be in the low 60s, 61-63 is pretty good.
Briefly, to understand what this all means. Harder steels are able to take a sharper edge and require sharpening less often, while softer steels are the opposite. However, it is also important to note that harder steels require more care with use as they will chip and become damaged if they are used to cut material like bone or hard, non-food products.
Stainless or Carbon Steel
Knives are manufactured with a such wide variety of difference steels there are too many to describe in this post. To cover the basics, you essentially need to know that they can all be broken down into two main categories, Stainless steel and Carbon Steel (more precisely High Carbon Steel – all steels have carbon in them).
Stainless steel is actually not stainless, but stain resistant (some care is required). There are so many great stainless steels and really this is a good choice for anyone who is just beginning to learn about kitchen knives and the steels they are produced in. The advantages of stainless steel are obvious, they require less maintenance. In terms of Rockwell, the average hardness of stainless steels tends to be slightly lower than in carbon steels, but you can still get a very hard stainless-steel knife at a reasonable price, consider just about any knife made in VG10 (HRC 60+) or if you are looking for a premium blade consider R2 or SG2 steel (HRC 63+)
Carbon Steel on the other hand is not stain resistant, but it does have an average hardness which is higher than stainless steel. There is an almost cult following with regard to carbon steel knives and those that enjoy using them will tell you that you can get a sharper edge on carbon, that they are easier to sharpen than stainless steel blades and that due to the hardness of the steel you can find thinner blades in carbon steel.
In our experience carbon steel knives are fantastically sharp and great to work with, but no more so than a great stainless steel. Stainless steel knives like the Kurosaki knives R2 range can be really hard (HRC 62+) and just as thin as a great carbon knife (approximately 2mm). As a chef the last thing you want to be doing is constantly caring for your blade. Our advice is to stick with stainless, but it really does boil down to person preference.
The length of the blade and the weight of the handle will determine how a blade is constructed. Knife manufacturers employ a range of methods to balance a knife. Some terms you might hear when discussing balance include full tang, half tang and distal taper.
In the end it is nice to have a blade that is centered on the point that you grip the knife. If you tend to use a pinch grip or a combo grip, then you will want this point to be over or slightly forward of the heel of the blade. If you use a regular/hammer or a pointed finger grip, then you will want the balance point to be slightly further back. Most chefs will employ a pinch or combo grip and as such most knives will be balanced over the heel of the blade.
Essential Knife Types – What do I need?
The Japanese have a myriad of different types from the Gyuto, Santoku and Petty to more obscure blade shapes like the Maguro bocho (Tuna Knife), Soba-giri bocho (Soba Noodle Knife) and Hamokiri (Conger Eel Knife). There are over 20 Japanese knife shapes and variations that we are aware of and surely many more. If you look at the western shapes you have the classic French Chef’s knife or Cook’s knife, Paring knives, the trusty Boning knife, Filleting knife, and many more and we haven’t even discussed the various Chinese shapes or those unique to other countries. So, do you need all of them? Certainly not.
Typically, a cook will only need a good French Chef’s knife or some variant like a Gyuto or Santoku, a Petty or small utility knife and a Paring knife. However, if you are regularly breaking down whole animals you may wish to look into a good Boning knife or Hankotsu in the case of fish a Japanese Deba and Yanagiba and in the case of vegetables a Nakiri or Usuba is a handy knife to have around, but in the end it comes down to the type of food you cook and the preparation you need to get down.
Gyuto, French Chef Knife or Santoku?
The classic French chef knife and the Japanese Gyuto are very similar, both are long, wide blades with a very similar shape. The Chef knife is typically a long-curved blade with a flat section near to the heel, the Gyuto is a long flat blade with a curved section nearer to the tip.
The curved section on each blade allows for a rocking, slicing action. The flat section facilitates a chopping movement. So, regardless of your preferred style both knife types will essentially meet your needs. However, as you can guess Chef knives are designed with a preference for a rocking, slicing action and Gyuto is designed for of a more chopping style and slicing movement. If you tend to use a rocking action then you will prefer the Chef knife shape, if you tend to use a chopping action you will prefer the Japanese Gyuto.
The Santoku is a nice option if you are used to working with a shorter blade length (usually about 160mm-180mm), but in the end the shorter blade length is less versatile. Otherwise, Santokus have all the same features as the Gyuto, but the shorter blade length means they are not ideal for cutting through larger produce (water melons for example). However, being shorter actually makes the Santoku a nimbler blade to use. The blade height on a Santoku is the same as a Gyuto. So, as long as the produce you are cutting is shorter than the blade, which is 90% of what you would use a Gyuto for, its actually an easier knife to work with. For this reason, we use both in our kitchen and find that the Santoku is a little more fun and comfortable to use. Just as an aside the Santoku is usually a little cheaper than a French chef or Gyuto also.
Paring or Petty or Both?
A Paring knife is a short flat bladed knife usually about 8cm-10cm in length. This is a great knife for cleaning and preparing vegetables. The compact, short blade makes it perfect for fine detail work.
The Petty is a little bigger and mirrors the shape of a Gyuto, usually around 12cm-15cm. We think its handy to have both, but if you have to choose the Petty is capable of accomplishing everything the Paring knife can do in terms of vegetables and can also be used as a boning knife in a pinch, its slightly more versatile. However, the Paring knife is much easier to work with on those intricate jobs like peeling potatoes or lifting onion skins.