Of all the direct-to-consumer cookware I’ve reviewed this year (and there has been a lot), one thing in common kept cropping up: most of it was American, and all of it shipped from outside of Canada. While in a lot of cases the (often-steep) duties were a price worth paying for otherwise great quality and inexpensive gear, it wasn’t always easy to square.
But it seems that homegrown ventures have started to take notice of this market, which has benefited from the huge bump in North American cookware and appliance sales this year. Earlier this month Noelle Hjelte and her partner, Endy co-founder Mike Gettis, launched Kilne, a direct-to-consumer brand that aims to offer high-quality cookware at lower prices by avoiding retail markups. Kilne has started out with one offering: kitchen knives. Specifically, a four-knife, six-tool set that promises luxury quality for the price a single professional-grade blade often goes for. A single Shun santoku sells for $200; a Zwilling Henckels upwards of $170, and that’s for more readily available brands. Kilne’s offering? A chef, santoku, bread and paring knife; kitchen shears; sharpening steel and knife block for $190 CAD.
Knives, in my experience, are one of the more overlooked aspects of kitchen gear, in part because they require constant care to keep them sharp and can be intimidating if you’re not familiar with proper technique. There’s a not-uncommon misconception that dull knives are somehow safer—and since it’s still technically possible to get the job done with them, you learn to get by. In my first few years of cooking for myself this is exactly how I did things, relying on smashed garlic over sliced and a $10 bread knife to cut through thin-skinned produce like peppers and tomatoes.
There are a whole host of reasons why this wasn’t a good idea. Dull blades slow you down; require more force to cut through things, increasing the likelihood of slipping and hurting yourself; can ruin the produce you’re trying to chop, and encourage some bad knife habits that can stick around for years. To slice a tomato, for example, I’d often stick a paring knife in point-first and cut around the vegetable in an awkward round motion. This was at endless annoyance to my brother, a career-long cook, who’d take to bringing a honing steel to my place any time he came over to visit. About eight years ago, he gave me an 8-inch chef’s knife for Christmas and taught me how to keep it sharp, honing it at barely an angle every handful of uses and properly sharpening it once or twice a year.
So, how does Kilne’s offering stack up? In four weeks of powering through onions, garlic and lots of tomatoes, I can say their four blades are among the sharpest I’ve used out of the box—and easily the sharpest of the other DTC-brand knives I’ve tested, all of which are more expensive. I’ve had to hone the chef and santoku maybe about half as often as the Material Kitchen blade I’ve otherwise been using; the paring knife, meanwhile, lifts the skin off ginger and citrus with ease and next to no waste. Unlike many of its American DTC counterparts, Kilne’s set comes in a soft wood block that keeps the knives safely in one place. But what I appreciate most about this set are its handles: a slip-resistant design that’s comfortable even to small hands.
As of right now, Kilne’s knives are available online as a set—though the company will be adding single-knife options for purchase within the coming weeks, and takes individual purchase requests via email. Plans for cookware and bakeware offerings are also in the works.
For many, $190 is still a lot of money to spend on a knife set. But if it’s within your range, they’re not only well worth the price, but a better deal than many of the similarly priced department store knife blocks that may offer more blades, but at significantly less quality. This year’s food gift guide recommends them as a great present for someone else, but if you’ve been looking to cut down on the number of utensils you use or upgrade your knife skills, they’re also a useful gift to yourself.