No kitchen would be complete without a set of sharp knives for all that chopping, mincing and julienning. And it’s a good bet no one loves the ubiquitous cooking tool more than Nate Bonner, a native St. Louisan who spends his days handcrafting knives with beautiful handles.

After years as a professional chef, including stints at Viking Culinary School and Chaumette Vineyards, Bonner founded NHB KnifeWorks in 2012. He says he found himself constantly tweaking his chef’s knives in an attempt to suit his preferences. His fascination with knives started as a young child, when his grandfather gave him a folding knife with a spoon and fork. “I ate every meal with it for a month,” Bonner says. “I love the history of knives, because you’re basically tracing back to the dawn of making records and people writing on walls with blades.”

Located at 4155 Beck Ave., NHB KnifeWorks’ products, which are entirely hand-built, also can be found at Bertarelli Cutlery on The Hill. “There’s a lot of beauty in our knives—they’re not machine-made, cookie-cutter tools,” Bonner says. Made of stainless, carbon and Damascus steel, the knives start as drawings, which are transferred to cardboard cutouts. The metal is then shaped in the forge and perfected by a knife grinding tool. “It’s fun to watch that transition from dirty, ugly black steel to a beautiful, shiny tool,” Bonner says.

Years of tweaking knives taught Bonner a lot about creating the perfect shape. “I noticed on just about every German knife up until last year, the spine was a perfect 90 degrees, which can become brutally uncomfortable if you’re cutting for hours each day,” he explains. “So the first thing I did was round out the spine. I also altered the angles on the blade itself through sharpening. Understanding knives on a more intimate level allows us to pay greater attention to the small details.”

Since its founding, NHB KnifeWorks has earned a solid following among chefs and home cooks alike. And late last year, Tom Colicchio of Bravo’s Top Chef chose the company’s green-handled Thai Basil line as a featured product on his DARA Artisans’ collection of USA-made artisan products.

One recent addition to Bonner’s offerings, which include chef, utility and paring knives, is a hunting knife, which Bonner was persuaded to craft after repeated requests from customers. He’ll also be rolling out two Asian-style knives, including a Santoku, created in collaboration with Quin Tran, head chef at Mai Lee. An additional line will be rolled out this summer if all goes well, he says. “We’re field testing now—it’s going to be awesome,” he says. “Knives seem so simple to most people, but a lot of work goes into each one.”

[deconstructed strip steak salad]Apron_Bonner_17
serves 4

1 1/4 lb. dry-aged strip steak
4 oz. white beech mushrooms,
removed from base
1 pint baby heirloom tomatoes
1 oz. balsamic reduction
1 oz. extra-virgin olive oil
1 c. Kalamata olives, pitted
2 bunches living watercress
1 bunch scallions, sliced on the bias
1/3 lb. Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
cheese, brie or other soft cheese
1 small lemon, cut in half
Salt & pepper

» Steak: Preheat grill or grill pan on high. Lightly brush steaks with oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook until medium rare. Rest while preparing vegetables.

» Mushrooms: Preheat saute pan on high. Add 1 T. oil to just smoking. Add mushrooms, saute until golden brown. When cooked, add salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

» Tomatoes: Preheat broiler to 550° F. In small bowl, toss tomatoes with oil to coat lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on foil-lined baking sheet. Broil until brown and blistering, about 3 minutes.

» Arrange salad on four plates, mushrooms in the center, olives on top and around. Slice steak thinly and fan over. Place broiled tomatoes around plate. Top with watercress and scallions. Drizzle balsamic glaze, and repeat with extra-virgin olive oil. Finish with squeeze of lemon juice, cracked pepper and cube of cheese.

Photos: Bill Barrett