Published 01.16.19

Shortly after celebrating its first anniversary, cookware startup Made In ventured beyond its existing product range of pots and pans to create a knife. Not just any knife, but professional-quality, fully forged knife that also took the company’s founders, Jake Kalick and Chip Malt, from their then-current all-American production processes to Thiers, France — a small town steeped in knife-making tradition.

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It's not been long since we sat down with Chip to discuss the founding of their brand. In fact, his interview was the first “Behind the Brand” story we published alongside the launch of Neighborhood Goods. But as soon as we heard about the Chef Knife, we knew we had to delve into the story behind its creation, so this time we sat down with Jake for the first in a new Neighborhood Goods series we’re calling “Behind the Product”. It’s almost like there’s a theme here.

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When you look at the description of the knife online, you’ll see it described as being “hammered from one single rod of nitrogen-treated, premium X50CrMoV15 metal”. We can't claim to be experts in knife-making, so the first thing we ask Jake is: what does that mean? “Historically, it’s been the metal that’s been used in the manufacture of premium-quality, western-made knives,” he says, but we want to know more, so we ask him to take us through the formula. “Well, the main elements are stainless steel and carbon,” he explains. “The X represents steel and the 50 represents 0.5% of carbon content. Carbon gives the blade a harder finish, which gets the blade sharper — and keeps it sharp. But the downside is that carbon easily chips and discolors. We want to create premium products for the mass market , so we’re not going to make something that’s going to be difficult for people to use and maintain, so we add Chromium (Cr) to aid stain residence. Molybdenum (Mo) adds to the hardness of the blade, as does vanadium (V). Lastly, that 15 represents 15% of Chromium content.” This tried-and-true formula behind the metal has, in fact, been in use for the past 100 years or so.

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However, Jake goes onto explain that there’s an additional component that makes their metal different: a finishing treatment with nitrogen, which is apparently very uncommon among manufacturers using this metal. “The reason we add nitrogen is that it hardens the metal, like carbon would,” he says, “but without the downsides of having a high carbon content.” In other words, you’re getting the benefits of a boutique, high-carbon knife, but in a package that’s way more user-friendly. “It’s pretty innovative,” Jake says, “which is what we go for as a brand.”

Jake also explains that the knife’s fully forged, fully tanged aspects are what really set it apart from other knives. “I’d say 99% of our competitors can’t say that they offer 100% forged knives,” he says. Forging is the process of using a hammer to pound the metal, which flattens it but also makes it strong. A fully tanged knife is one where the metal runs the entirety of the knife, right through to the end of the handle, rather than just the blade.

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Impressively, every single component in Made In’s Chef Knife is sourced within 30 miles of where it’s produced. “It’s truly a French-made product, central to the region where the knife is made,” Jake says. So let’s delve into this, because it seems like a wonderfully romantic idea to create a knife in such a historic knife-making environment. “They’ve been making knives in Tiers for 700 years,” Jake tells us. “There’s a river that runs through the middle of the town, and all of the knife factories were put on this river — they used wheels on the water to generate power. It’s also situated right off a giant forest — they used the wood from the forest to burn furnaces in the factory, and to make the wooden handles on the knives.” Follow signposts for the town on French roads and you’ll notice the knife icon that accompanies the town’s name — the number one attraction in Thiers is, it seems, the Cutlery Museum. “It really is their identity,” Jake says, “even to this day.”

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For Made In, creating the Chef Knife in Thiers, but specifically outside of America, represents a fundamental shift. Jake says that many people assumed the company’s name was a shortening of the phrase “Made in the USA”, and explains that he and Chip wanted to distance themselves from some of the negative aspects of the direct-to-consumer movement. “In many ways, DTC is just about finding a way to produce or import a product at scale, and then just build branding around that. But our supply chain is so authentic, and we felt like maybe that was getting lost in the whole DTC messaging.” So the founders have since made moves to hammer home that it’s an authentic business that works with partners to manufacture products in the best places to make their kitchen tools. “We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Everlane,” Chips says, “with being very transparent about our factories and our manufacturing processes.” He explains that many old-school manufacturers can be suspicious, however. “As a digitally native brand, they can look at you like you’re Amazon, coming in to steal their business without any real authentic bond. But given my family’s 100-year history in the space, it’s been a lot easier for me and Chip to connect with a lot of these factory owners, and we were able to forge — no pun intended — good relationships with them. We understand the history of the space.”

Jake, we know you intended that pun, and we salute you for it.

Anyway, the end result is a knife that Chip and Jake believe everyone will love. In keeping with Made In’s pots and pans, the aesthetic of the knife is simple, and its quality is well beyond what you might expect for a product in this price range. Now that you’ve read this, you know exactly why.