When my wife and I were putting together our wedding registry, she gave me free reign over a few things. One of those was the kitchen knives. When I found the ones I wanted, we got them. And I haven't regretted it at all.
Ask any chef (or cook, for that matter) what the most important tool in their kitchen is and most of them will tell you that it's their knives. While fancy gadgets can do just about anything that knives can, they don't have the versitility to handle everything that a single knife can do. While there are more types of knives than the average cook needs, a few are essential: a chef's knife and a paring knife are the two that I couldn't do without.
You can find knives for sale for anywhere up to several thousand dollars for custom made pieces. And while it's true that any knife, no matter how good, can be ruined by mistreatment, there is a definite minimum level of quality that you need. For instance, if a knife can't hold an edge, then what good does it do you?
There are a number of things that you can do to help make your knives last longer and give you a better experience.
1) Keep them sharp. When you use a knife a lot, it will start to get dull. There's nothing that can be done about that, no matter what Ron Popeil says. There are several methods for sharpening knives, but an inexpensive sharpening steel gives good results with a minimum of practice. And remember...dull knives are dangerous to the user. Even if you're cut with a sharp knife, the wound won't have the ragged cut that a dull knife will give you and will heal faster and with less chance of scarring.
2) Keep them dry. Knives are primarily made of metal. When metal gets wet and stays wet, it can oxidize. Even if you're using a rust-proof knife, failure to dry knives can lead to water spots and that just makes your quality knives look like crud.
3) Keep them safe. A wooden knife block can help protect your knives in a variety of ways. It helps wick away excess water to keep them dry, it protects them from random damage, it keeps you from getting hurt by them, and it puts them all in one convenient place.
Keeping all of this in mind, I was looking for a moderately priced knife set with a variety of blade types for different tasks. I needed something that felt good in my hand, held an edge, and (as an enthusiast of blades in general) I wanted something that looked good. So, while wandering through Bed, Bath, amp; Beyond during an initial registry search, I discovered the Calphalon Katana series of knives.
The Katana series had everything that I was looking for, including blades for just about every conceivable cooking use, a handsome bamboo knife block, and they all felt great in my hand. As for the looks...all I can say is 'wow.' The blades were designed with a pseudo-damascus look. Damascus steel is made in such a way as to create an effect similar to the way oil looks on water throughout the metal. While the Katana knives are not true damascus (which would have been prohibitively expensive), they captured my attention in the same way.
I've had the knives for close to a year, now. I've never had to use the diamond sharpening steel. Each cut is smooth and easy. The blades continue to feel welcome in my hands and add a little bit of flair to the simple act of meal preparation. They're durable, as I discovered when I accidentally whacked one into a hardwood cabinet. And though the damascus-like look could be spoiled easily by water spots, a combination of careful cleaning, drying, and the bamboo knife block.
They're not the least expensive knives on the market. There are knives you can pick up for less that will do a fine job. I think I paid over £250 for the entire set, but it was well worth every penny. I have had nothing but pleasure in using the Calphalon Katana series knives and I strongly believe that anyone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen will, too.