When I was a college student in the late 70's, my girlfriend and I would occasionally visit the local flea market. It offered a cheap and entertaining Sunday diversion for two broke college kids.
One afternoon we stumbled into a crowd of people entranced by a man perched on a small platform. He stood in front of a makeshift wooden table. On the table stood a few red-ripe tomatoes and empty Coca-Cola cans. He was dazzling the crowd with his well-rehearsed patter about a new, revolutionary knife from the orient. He declared that this sharp, serrated wonder would cut through a ripe tomato like a hot knife through warm butter. He laid the blade against a bright red beefsteak and eased it through. Then he picked up a soda can and announced that the very same knife would slice through aluminum just as easily, and he proceeded to do so. Then he sliced the tomato again. The crowed gasped in delight.
“I bet your knife can’t do that!” he said as the applause died out. “This knife is made with 100% true surgical stainless steel and comes with a lifetime warranty – it will be as sharp in twenty years as it is the day you buy it.”
He went on to say that a knife like this would cost $19.95 in stores, but we could buy it today for just $10. He sold them as fast as his partner could yank them out of a large cardboard box.
I was one of them.
And I didn’t even cook.
It was going to be a mother’s day present. My girlfriend was a little less enthused. “Shouldn’t you wait? Read up on it? See what Consumer Reports says or something?”
“It’s got a lifetime warranty. If it doesn’t work I’ll just bring it back. What’s to lose?”
We stopped at a grocery store on the way home and I bought two plump tomatoes and a six-pack of Dr. Pepper. That night I amazed my dorm-mates as I sliced through a tomato, then through an empty Dr. Pepper can, then back through the tomato and then the can. But when I tried the tomato again, it didn’t slice like a hot knife through butter. I examined the knife – the serrated edges were bent. Dull as Larry King with a head cold.
“Not to worry,” I said as I placed the knife back in the box. “It has a lifetime warranty. I’ll just send it back.”
I looked for paperwork that may have come in box. There wasn’t any. Nada. Even the box lacked a company address or phone number. Oh well, I thought. I’ll just go back to the flea market next week and get my money back.
Next Sunday I headed back out to the flea market and searched the grounds for the knife salesman. He was nowhere to be found. I did, however, notice quite a few people making the rounds with a knife box similar to the one clutched in my hand. They all seemed pretty steamed about the situation. Me? I just chalked it up to a nineteen-year-old kid who had $10 burning a hole in his pocket.
All wasn’t lost. Even though my mom could never use the ruined-knife as it was intended, it did serve a purpose. You see, she discovered that the thin, flexible blade popped open the bolt on the front door when she locked herself out. It was more effective than a credit card and it didn’t chew up the doorjamb like a screwdriver. Eventually the knife found its way to a convenient hook in the garage where it hangs to this day. I remember times when I’d show up unexpectedly from college with a few friends in tow only to find myself locked out. We’d head into the garage to get the knife. My friends would stare and ask, “What the heck is that?”
“It’s a door opener,” I’d reply with a grin.
“I never saw one like that.”
My lesson? If something is too good to be true, it probably is. I also learned that you don’t always get what you pay for; remember, I bought that $10 knife when the minimum wage was around $2 bucks an hour. That knife today would probably hover around $40. Not exactly cheap.
So, when it comes to kitchen cutlery. Buy the very best knife you can afford. And don’t get it at the flea market.
WARREN'S 8-inch CHEF'S KNIFE RECOMMENDATIONS
(with avg. prices - shop around for bargains)
J. A. Henckels Four Star $90.00
J. A. Henckels Twin Professional ‘S’ series $95.00
Wüsthof Classic Cooks Knife $100.00
Forschner Victorinox Fibrox $30.00