Blades of Glory

Executive Chef Tim Kolanko admits he was a bit hesitant when David Spatafores, owner of California restaurant Stake Chophouse & Bar, suggested a customized knife program in which diners select their own steak knives.

"We're opening a high-end steakhouse, and you don't want to get too precious and pretentious with things," Chef Kolanko says. "I was a little skeptical at first because I wasn't sure how it would be perceived, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People are really enjoying it."

The customized knife program is an example of restaurants taking customization—a buzzword in the industry over the last few years—beyond the menu by bringing it to the guest. At Stake, which opened in Coronado in November, the knife program is available to anyone who orders a steak. 

The luxury twist allows diners to try out knives, feel their weights and serrations, and determine which will be the best utensil for their meal. The experience complements Stake’s lineup of more than 2,000 bottles of wine as well as the rare steak cuts that include A5 Japanese Wagyu—the only restaurant in San Diego serving this beef—aged bone-in New York and rib-eye steaks from Flannery Beef in San Rafael, California, and the American Wagyu skirt and eye of rib sourced from Idaho’s Snake River Farms.

Before the entrée course comes out, the server brings out a mahogany cigar box that displays the knives side by side, and the selection begins. The roster includes two Japanese varieties, two German types, and a French one. Chef Kolanko says the restaurant is working on procuring an American-made knife to add to the selection. Most of the knives are professional-grade, reflecting the same quality the chefs use in the kitchen, such as the Japanese Shun or Global brand and the Frederich Dick brand from Germany.

The choice of which knives to include is indicative of the world of professional knives, Chef Kolanko says. "There are a lot more coming from Germany and Japan than other places of the world."

While the style of knife does not necessarily impact the experience with the steak, the customized knife program allows for a talking point most restaurants can't offer. "You can choose a knife that fits your personality, your style. It's something that's a little bit unexpected and ends up being a talking point."

By Sonya Chudgar

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