One of the most important pieces of equipment a chef can have is a knife.
But the wrong one can do more damage than anything else in the kitchen.
That's why Ergo Chef has come up with a series of premium knives, created for ease of use and comfort that has helped prevent pain, and chefs from developing injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis from repetitive chopping.
“My brother, Scott, as a chef had a need for a more ergonomic and comfortable knife, because he developed carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis from repetitive use of a chef’s knife,” says Mike Staib, vice president, Ergo Chef. “His doctor said, 'You can have surgery, stop cooking or you can design a new product.' He looked at the knife he was using and realized the repetitive motions from chopping was causing the issues, so he sat down with some engineers, chefs and our dad at his company Capital Design, and they came up with the original Pro-Series line that are more ergonomic & comfortable to use.”
The Chef knives the family patented helped many chefs cut for hours without strain or pain in testing. “It can help to relieve the pain of fibromyalgia or arthritis or carpal tunnel,” he says. “If you want to keep your hand healthy, this knife is for you. It's more efficient and cuts without strain.”
After six years of testing and R&D, the group was finally happy to turn out a product that is now helping chefs avoid damage to their hand, wrist & forearm, making food preparation more comfortable. “We tested the prototype over and over,” says Staib. “One chef said, 'This is amazing. I want a whole set.”
In 2002 the company was launched in Danbury, Conn.
“Ergo is for ergonomics,” says Staib. “It's the shape of the handle and geometry of the blade that touches the cutting surface. Our knives have a nice large radius to create a smooth rocking motion and no abrupt stops. Most knives have a flat on the heel of blade, and you end up stopping, and that abrupt stop creates a knock in your wrist, hand and forearm that can create a problem over time.”
Ergo Chef knives have another vital feature. “Our handle comes down rather than straight off the bolster. With the rocking up and down motion, your hand falls right on the back of the knife perfectly when you're raising it up, rather than having it bent up too far or bent down too far when you're putting the knife all the way down on the board,” he points out. “It's just a more natural, comfortable grip and the balance of the knife is precisely at the bolster area. This way you have a perfect balance where you pinch the knife, either in front of the bolster or right on the bolster itself. It's a nice weight that makes it very easy and comfortable to control,” he says.
The more natural shape, Staib adds, makes a chef's life easier. “It's even good for line cooks and prep cooks.”
The company's foodservice line was chosen as a finalist in the Food Service Equipment Review for its 10-inch chef knife. “These knives are called the Prodigy series and they're designed expressly for foodservice, restaurants or beginner chefs. They're for the masses, and they're lower-cost, but are designed with the same ergonomics,” he notes. “The 10-inch Prodigy chef knife also has a full tang (the steel of blade extends into the handle), which makes it balanced & more durable. Most foodservice knives have a rat tail inside the handle, which is less durable and the handle can be prone to breaking off. Ours goes all the way back, almost to the end of the handle, a full tang that builds strength and balance and is better quality which is our highest priority next to ergonomic comfort.”
Some restaurants will buy the cheaper version but others rent. “They want what looks good,” he says. “Executive chefs say, what else do you guys have? These Crimson knives, I want one of those. This is our premier brand. Executive chefs gravitate to them because of the quality & beauty. They'll take them home, lock them up so no line cook grabs their stuff.”
Ergo Chef just partnered with Ace Endico to introduce its product into different restaurants in the tri-state area. “We're featured in their cash-and-carry store in Brewster, N.Y. They're a great foodservice company & provide food products for Yankee Stadium. Once chefs try the knives, they're ready to upgrade,” says Staib.
The company offers the same three product lines to everybody. “Prodigy® Series is our lower-cost knife and it's foodservice grade, with a TPR non-slip handle, for a better grip in the kitchen environment when hands are wet or greasy. The PRO Series line has a classic 3 rivet black POM handle, a German carbon steel blade, and a full tang showing in the handle. It's been highly rated in a leading consumer test publication. The newest Crimson® Series features G10 handles, the world's strongest handle material,” Staib explains. “It looks like wood but it’s G10, a fiberglass resin that’s deemed the world strongest handle material. We wanted to create a beautiful wood look without using wood, because wood contracts and expands with moisture and gaps can form collecting bacteria. The handles of wood knives can also end up cracking & falling off.”
Staib says the company wanted something that would last. “It has German high carbon stainless polished blades, and a tapered bolster area so it has a more comfortable pinch grip on the blades. There's less callusing, and the handle's more ergonomic with a rounded shape, more conforming to the hand. Its full tang is exposed and there's an end cap. It's a little flashier, more elegant.”
In terms of composition, Ergo Chef uses German carbon stainless steel for most of its knives. “The Prodigy has German-type stainless steel, the same composition, carbon stainless, but not from Germany. That's what helps keeps the cost down,” he says.
The company keeps its prices about 15-20% lower than other top brands, but Staib points out, it's the same quality, steel from Germany, a black handle, classic rivets. “We beat most major brands for price, ergonomic comfort and edge retention, & 30 day Money Back Guarantee, key to all our lines.”
Why should foodservice operators use these knives? “They make cutting and chopping more efficient & 30 days to use them in the kitchen. Chefs are using products that are going to help them, and at the end of the day, their hand's not going to be killing them. It can prevent worker's comp claims for carpal tunnel and tendinitis, loss of work. If it gives better health to chefs and line cooks for their hands, arms and forearms, why not?” says Staib.
As for that doctor? “We went back to him and he said, 'You're going to put me out of business,'” he says with a laugh.