Eytan Zias is a culinary samurai. After compiling an impressive resume working in famous kitchens in New York City and all over the Valley, he decided to return to an earlier love: knives. He sold off parts of his impressive collection to finance his current venture, Phoenix Knife House (www.phoenixknifehouse.com, 480- 946-2758 7607 E. McDowell Rd.). This brightly colored shop (it's in Scottsdale, actually, not Phoenix) features some of the most impressive and sought after Japanese-centric blades in the business. You'll also find other chefly accoutrements like jackets, clogs, books, and knife rolls.
But the big draw is Zias' knives, and he's amassed a serious collection of 12 rare and specialty lines. We're told one brand of blades in particular, Sugimoto, can't be found anywhere else outside of Japan. These special tools need care, and Eytan's shop is one of the few places around town that will sharpen knives by hand. Just kitchen knives, though. He may be a warrior, but he's keeping that in the kitchen.
Chow Bella: How did you get your start in the restaurant business?
Eytan Zias: I'm originally from Israel, and when I came to stay with my sister she was working at an Italian restaurant and I got a job as a bus boy. Then I took a second job as a bus boy and they needed a chef so I volunteered. I went to Scottsdale Culinary Institute in 1999, and graduated in 2000 and then I moved to New York City to work at Aureole.
CB: Fancy! That's a pretty famous restaurant.
EZ: (laughter) It is, it's Charlie Palmer's restaurant. I also worked at Craft for Tom Colicchio [the host of Bravo TV's Top Chef], La Cote Basque and then Fiamma. I actually came out here to work for Fiamma when they opened in Scottsdale.
CB: Back up a little, tell me about Tom Colicchio. You must have some hot gossip and great stories.
EZ: Yes, I do (laughter). But I need to be tactful.
CB: So no stories?
EZ: No Tom stories, anyway. I will say that a lot of the famous guys didn't always spend a lot of time in their restaurant kitchens when I worked as a chef. They would come in, take a look around. They weren't there cooking every night.
CB: So Fiamma brought you back to Arizona?
EZ: Yes, it did. I'd been coming out to Phoenix every couple of years my whole life. In my early 20's I thought it was boring. Now I'm in my 30's, things change. I love it now and wouldn't live anywhere else. I love the restaurant scene and mountain biking.
CB: What's the best part about living here compared to New York?
EZ: My mortgage payment for my house is less than my 250 square foot 5th floor walk up. And, I've been here for 5 years and haven't had to parallel park once (laughter).
CB: Why did you start The Knife House?
EZ: After Fiamma I worked at Kai. I had my early mid-life crisis. I just didn't want to work for anyone else. Having a restaurant is really expensive, and it just wasn't possible. I've always loved knives and I had started collecting them in New York. I just started selling them, what I wasn't using, and people were buying from me literally out of my backpack. I sold my car, my mountain bikes, my computer and maxed out my credit cards and opened my first shop which was about 300 square feet and totally hard to find. I bought [out] my competition and the store has evolved to what it is now.
CB: If you are stocking your kitchen, is there a 'go to' knife to get?
EZ: An 8 inch chef's knife. If I had to pick one that would be it. I don't sell sets, and most people don't need them. You need the chef's knife, a bread knife, and a paring knife.
CB: I've seen some outrageously expensive knives. Do you have to spend a fortune on a good one?
EZ: Not at all. You can get a good knife for about 80 bucks. If you take care of it, it will last the rest of your life. I can sharpen it for you so it won't get dull.
CB: Why are dull knives bad?
EZ: Ask anyone who just cut themselves (laughter). A sharper knife is just less dangerous. It stays in place, it won't slip, and your food will taste better.
CB: How will your food taste better if you use a sharp knife?
EZ: Because the sharp knife won't damage the food, it will just slice through it. There's an old knife sharpener's trick - take an apple and slice it will a dull knife and a sharp knife. The dull side will oxidize much faster because you damaged all the cells when you cut through it. The side cut with the sharp knife will be more enjoyable to eat and cook with and won't oxidize as fast.