On The Cutting Edge
The Riverbend's hidden jewel offers perfect gifts for any cook.
Strolling down the tiny winding streets of Laguiole in southern France, Napoleonville, Louisiana native Jackie Blanchard passed store after store, all proudly proclaiming themselves as “Coutelier” which translates, “Knife Shop.”
Through the windows, she could spy dazzling arrays of knives for sale, tempting both budding and well-seasoned chefs alike. That special memory from Blanchard’s time as an apprentice in France helped inspire Coutelier NOLA, the tiny, jewel box of a knife and kitchen specialty shop located in New Orleans’ Riverbend at 8239 Oak Street.
After graduating from Nicholls State culinary program, Blanchard met her partner, Brandt Cox, in the kitchen at John Besh’s Restaurant August, where she was a sous chef (and Cox’s boss). A spark was kindled and the two spent the next 15 years traveling and working in the best restaurants in America.
Blanchard and Cox eventually returned to New Orleans and toyed with the idea of opening a restaurant. Finding the market flooded with dining options, their thoughts turned instead to cutlery – every chef’s most prized tool. They decided to open a shop that catered to the needs of both professional and home cooks.
Despite its French moniker, surprisingly, most of Coutelier’s offerings herald from Japan. Generations of chefs have traditionally chosen European steel knives, but in the last decade, many Western chefs have come to prefer the work of Japan’s master craftsmen. Japanese knives are lighter than European ones. They’re also thinner and made from harder steel that can be sharpened to an especially fine edge.
How has Japan overtaken the high-end knife market? After World War II, sword-making ceased in Japan, so many families turned their generations-old blacksmith skills to knife manufacturing. These master craftsmen are referred to as “Shokunin,” or “living national treasure.” Needless to say, their production is extremely limited.
In order to stock Coutelier with the finest knives possible, Blanchard and Cox travel annually to Japan, forging friendships in places like Niimi, a remote little mountain town in the Okinawa Prefecture that is the home of Shosui Takeda, currently, Blanchard’s favorite knife maker. His knives are made of the highest-quality Aogami Super Steel, each blade truly one of a kind, with 50/50 beveled edges and the traditional blacksmith’s rustic, kurouchi finish.
With over 28 different manufacturers to choose from (including a smattering from France) how do you select the perfect knife? Blanchard says it’s a very personal decision, “like handbags, jewelry or shoes.”
“Your knife is an extension of your hand and tells the story of the quality of your work,” she says, advising buyers to pick each one up and see how it feels in their hand, checking for weight and balance.
The right tool always makes the job much easier, and on this front Coutelier’s offerings don’t end with just the finest knives. Also from Japan are specialty ceramic tabletop charcoal grills – the perfect thing to get a party started! The two professional chefs also stock their shelves with specialty pantry items like Poirier’s cane syrup and sea salt from the Gulf of Mexico. Heirloom-quality custom spoons, cocktail muddlers and cutting boards from Kylee Thatcher in Clarksville, Tennessee, are displayed alongside hand-carved chopsticks and the ultimate in knife rolls and backpacks, made just for Coutelier.
I found the perfect stocking stuffer for all my chef friends – a mini mandolin protected by a folding mirror. Blanchard advised me that in Korea, women use it for slicing cucumber during facials, but chefs across the city are delighting in its precision for slicing radishes and garlic cloves. Japanese rust erasers are another unique gift, perfect for eliminating rust on heirloom cast iron.
Coutelier also offers knife sharpening. Shipments of knives arrive regularly from chefs across the U.S. who rely on Blanchard to masterfully care for their knives and return them razor sharp. Is grandma’s old carbon-steel knife rusting in the back of your kitchen drawer? Blanchard can fully restore it.
Serious cooks need serious knives, and serious knives are simply what Coutelier is all about.
Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, Louisiana Eats! Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Wednesdays at 1 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.
A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.