Nilou Motamed knows her way around global cuisine — and around a kitchen, herself. The Iranian-born editor and media personality is best known for her roles at top-tier magazines and websites — including tenures as editor-in-chief at both Food & Wine and Epicurious — and, more recently, as a judge on both Top Chef and Iron Chef. However, she’s an avid and accomplished home cook in her own right, too. (And fun fact: despite spending so much time in and around New York, she still prefers to slice her bagels in thirds.)
In the middle of it all, Motamed took a moment to speak with SPY about the one tool she uses every day that doesn’t break the bank: a $7 Victorinox kitchen knife.
How did you start using this knife?
My brother turned me on to this knife. He doesn’t care at all about food, but he’s an engineer. He could tell you all about the science behind it.
Now, I am besotted with this knife. I buy a lot of them, and whenever I go to cook at other people’s houses, I stick one in my bag and take it over. I’m always so happy when I go back to their house and see that it has become their favorite knife, too. Plus, that means I don’t have to bring another one over.
So what is it that you love so much about the knife?
At first glance, they look … not awesome. They’re these bright neon colors. They’re very, very lightweight. But I love how sharp this knife is, and how sharp it stays. It has this tight, tight serration. It doesn’t leave an indent — you don’t see the serration in whatever you’re cutting. It’s also very thin. So when you cut an heirloom tomato, you just get the slice — almost like a razor. (And there’s nothing more heartbreaking than spending $5 on a perfect tomato and then turning it into pulp when you try to slice it.)
This knife makes quick work of saucisson sec, too. If I’m going to hide some saucisson sec in my luggage on a trip back from France (well, now I’m going to get arrested, but whatever), I want it very, very thinly sliced. Also, even though the blade’s not very long, I can use it to get through a really crusty sourdough, too.
Even with a shorter blade, if it’s sharp enough, you can saw through anything eventually.
You just get it started and it keeps going! I have a whole drawer of carbon steel knives and Japanese knives. I love those knives. They’re beautiful. But if I’m going to make a Persian shirazi salad — a chopped salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions — this is the knife I reach for. You can even cut herbs with this knife. It doesn’t bruise herbs! It works with jalapeno peppers and garlic, too.
People who work with knives all day often say they prefer a lightweight handle versus one with big handles and thick, heavy blades.
I know it sounds like blasphemy from someone like me, who is so dedicated to exquisite pieces of craftsmanship. But all I can say is that it’s a great knife! Though the handle itself is not my favorite, it’s ergonomic. I don’t have big hands, so a big 12-inch chef’s knife is way too much for me. I’ll use this knife with anything, even if I’m cutting up something big, like melon. I love cutting watermelon with this knife! It’s just pure joy. [For] cubed watermelon and feta salad, you can get those melon and feta cubes perfect.
Have you converted a lot of people, leaving this knife all over the place?
I was just at my friend Adam Sachs’ house — the former editor-in-chief of Saveur — and he was having Sicilian chef Corrado Assenza cook in his kitchen. And I saw the knife out! I was like, we don’t need to talk about it, there’s no need to have a whole discussion … but you love that knife, right?