As many professional chefs will tell you, an exemplary knife is paramount when working in a kitchen; from private estates through to tiny backstreet restaurants. Its value can often be overlooked due to its frequent use, until of course you come to dice, chop and carve the most basic of ingredients such as the humble carrot or the uncompromising potato and grab the closest damp squib of a blade and begin hacking away leaving a culinary CSI crime scene in your wake.
Meet Aura Knifeworks, described as ‘A New Legend in American Knifemaking’ – Based in California, its CEO and Founder Noah Cowan had the initial idea to create his company back in 2011 when he was a young culinary student who took cooking, and only cooking very seriously. Noah admits he did have a rebel mentality back in high-school until he began an apprenticeship with Austrian Chef, Hans Till.
“Hans taught me how to grow a pair and be a man, he forever impressed the classical kitchen ideal in my mind. Respecting the ingredients above all, obligation to customer, fierce discipline through successive repetition, a constant quiet improvement of my work”, explained Noah.
When it came to crafting knives, it was a hobby for Noah; a way to de-stress and allow a sharp focus when evaluating his future ideas. Aura Knives was actually born in a camping tent in his parents’ 100 sq. ft. back garden where he would spend countless hours grinding away and refining profiles – making them thinner, faster, more aggressive and effortless. His ideas steadily but surely evolved.
“I ditched my plastic handles, replacing them with natural materials that allowed me to feel what my knife felt, through the subtle vibrations. I started to carve handles to fit the hand, taking clay impressions. Chefs in kitchens I would be situated in, would see my knife and want it, so I would make it for them. My reputation was growing, I had a 6 week waiting list for clay fitted re-handles, and would re-profile their blades. It was fun for me and I was bonding with chefs, they would spend extra time with me, teaching me new cooking techniques. A lot of my time in kitchens was either minimum wage or unpaid, I was just happy to learn, and loved the kitchen, everything about it, especially the stress for some reason. Eventually I was being shoved out of kitchens by the chefs who taught me everything! ”Go home, make knives” they said. It was painful but I knew they were right, professional. Knife making was my calling. Every knife I worked with in my early days taught me something about geometry and the unique traits of the particular steel. This led me to start making my own blades from scratch. I started importing Swedish razor blade steel and making my knives out of that, then I got into old school hi-carbon steels which performed better because they had less chromium and more iron, more carbon. Now we use ultra-hard ball bearing steel which after heat hardening and quenching we reduce the temperature gradually with liquid nitrogen until it’s at -340*F, this makes the steel much stronger and creates a super steel that holds an edge way longer, which makes the knife itself last way longer, because it rarely needs sharpening.”
The name AURA quirkily stems from a baby parrot Noah once had.
“This was one of those rare animals that never seemed to figure out it wasn’t a human. Aura danced to 90’s hip hop, loved everyone, and rode in my shirt pretty much anywhere. Like a little bird version of Ratatouille. She would steal people’s food and drinks if nobody was watching, which was bad because she contracted bird flu in 2012. I was told she wouldn’t live, but 3 days of constant love and bottle feeding her electrolytes, she survived. Epilepsy was the result of a bird fever that got to her brain, her seizures became increasingly frequent and severe. We named the company in memory of Aura, hence the feather.
I usually just tell people the definition of the word Aura; which is an extension of you, because that’s what a knife is supposed to be after all. Deep down I’m a bird nerd though. Our website is Aurachef.com because A-U-R-A chef is like “hey, you, are, a chef” and I think it’s funny. You also can’t spell the word restaurant without Aura, restAURAnt“.
All Aura Knives are top performers. The materials used to create the knives are not developed, they are discovered. Noah uses a lot of materials which are ancient in their origins but unutilised in the field.
“For example our use of gemstone, as a counterbalance, which acts like a pendulum to keep the knife in balanced motion. We use an heirloom style carbon steel because it makes a better knife than stainless. But we modernize it with little bit of chromium so it won’t rust. We finish our blades with a 140 hour liquid nitrogen chill. Bringing the knives down to -165* C removes stress and grows complex micro crystals within the steel which contribute to edge retention, strength and hardness.
The woods we use are selected for their particular grain behaviour. Palm which is like a series of fiberglass rods are used on the inside of the handle, each rod points 25 degrees downwards for power transfer into each chop.
We use rare burl on the outside for its anisotropic grain, which means it goes every which way like curly hair on someone’s head. This grain allows you to pick up slight vibrations, giving you feedback into what your knife is doing. Literally allowing you to feel what you’re cutting.”
For a professional chef there is a plethora of choice when it comes to quality knives which are designed to enhance existing skills; whether Japanese or European. What makes Noah’s artisan knives different from his competitors? And how does he convince chefs to part with their money considering the knives are in the up-market price range?
“The real difference, aside from love of course, is the level of thought that goes beyond what has been tried before. None of our knives happen in a vacuum, nor do they happen from research. These are all developed by and with top professional working chefs. Hundreds of hours go into testing even the subtlest innovation. Every part of this knife contributes to its purpose. Every material.”
Here, at Estate & Manor Magazine, we think anyone reading this article (or simply looking at the pictures in awe) will all agree that Aura Knives are a work of art. They look fabulous and up on first glance you would think they belong in a museum, not slaving away over a chopping board. No stone is left unturned here, every minor detail is apparent without compromising the usability of the knife. That said, some may assume they are more of a display item than a chef’s best friend.
“Our knives are past the excuses practicality. One thing for certain, they are built to go all day in real kitchen environments. And if you’re going to buy one of these knives, we advise you to consider it your daily driver, it can take abuse.”
In terms of the European market for Aura Knives, Noah does have plans to introduce his knives to professional Chefs in the UK and Europe shortly. Quite a few chefs have already invested and are currently using Aura knives in their kitchen, including TV celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver.
Visit the Aura Knives website at www.aurachef.com and take a look at Noah’s range of masterpieces.