Photos courtesy of Chelsea Miller
After thirty days of relaying diverse and inspiring stories from women in all aspects of the food world, it seemed only fitting that we end the month by honoring our hashtag, #girlswithknives. Chelsea Miller is quite literally the girl with the knife….er, the woman with the knife. For the past six years, she has been forging artisan kitchen knives out of a small shop in Brooklyn, NY. From peddling her wares at a humble flea market stand to making knives for Mario Batali and the chefs of Eleven Madison Park, Chelsea embodies art, entrepreneurship, and a dedication to providing a seriously quality product.
Want to stock your kitchen with Chelsea’s gorgeous knives? Prepare for patience. The wait list for one of these sharp beauties is around 4 months, because she’s in demand and makes each one by hand!
Tell us what it’s like to be a women in a field generally dominated by men.
Luckily, I’ve never felt any sort of exclusion or pressures from the outside world about being a woman in a certainly male-dominated and exclusive field. When people find out I’m a knife maker, it’s like it never occurred to them that a woman could do it. But then it’s like, “What can’t a girl do?” I do generally feel a sense of comfort and belonging, and doing what I do is a great way to influence both women and men in the industry.
Does being female influence your design and craftsmanship?
I observe what’s out there in the world as far as culinary tools – what we cook and eat with. They are generally from a male perspective, like traditional Japanese swords and knives. I look at the world through the eye of a designer and try to create something different. Being a woman helps that, in my opinion, and I think the uniqueness is well-received. When I’m designing, there is a sense of femininity. My knives are more curved and rounded, rather than sharp and squared off. Many knives lean toward a tactile range, like for hunting or fighting. Mine have more of a nurturing aspect. There’s a Mother Nature feel.
Where do you get your design inspiration?
The great thing about knives is that the sky is the limit in terms of design. It has to cut, but there is such a range in quality. It’s great to be able to think about a knife functioning as the extension of a chef’s arm, but the rest is open to the imagination. I get my inspiration from everywhere. This morning I was sketching out a knife after going to the [New York] Philharmonic because I was inspired by the violin bows.
What are the favorite designs in your collection?
I love the cheese knives because they’re petite and easy to use. When you’re using small tools, it’s almost like having a paintbrush. My other favorites are the “traditional” chef knives made from recycled horseshoe rasps. They’re designed in a German style with the long blade and heavy feel – they have weight and power. But you can also use them to grate and zest! Because they’re so different, it’s my invitation to a chef to think beyond what you can do with a normal knife.
What have been some defining moments in your career?
It’s easier to see the transitions looking back and harder to see while you’re in them. I’ve realized that knife making is a way to cohesively connect all that I am as a person and an artist. When I started, it was from a need to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Spending time alone in my shop with the raw materials, away from people and influences, taught me a lot about how I want to be in the world. I’m at this place now where I’m ready for more collaborations outside of my shop. I want to know what people in the food world want. You know, take off the headphones and build this shared experience for myself and others.
What advice do you have for other women trying to build careers in male-centric industries?
- Never underestimate your influence and perspective as a woman. Women are the keepers of culture! If women say it’s good, it is.
- If you believe that what you have to say is important or different, than take the time to keep it to yourself. Enjoy the benefits of what you can offer the world for as long as you can. Then when you bring it out, you’ll be comfortable in what you have to offer. The path will become more clear about how to share it in an authentic way.