When you cook for a living, knives become an extension of your body. They become a part of you and consequently, you start to form an emotional bond with them.
If you are a line cook working at a restaurant, it is not unusual to spend a good chunk of the money you earn just on knives alone. I currently have around $2,000 worth of knives—paring knives, butcher knives, chef's knives—but it took a while for me to rebuild my collection after having my knives stolen last year.
I will never forget that dreadful day. I had just started a new job at a restaurant near Dodger Stadium and, like an idiot, I left my knife roll in the car one day while I went to a day game. When I got back to the car, the knife roll was gone. The motherfuckers also stole my leather jacket and box of cigarettes. As soon as I noticed that my knives were missing, I got this deep, sinking feeling in my stomach. It was similar to the sense of dread you feel when you hear the news that someone you know is dying, and processing the fact that you will never see them again.
If the guy who stole my knives is reading this right now, I hope he cuts his hand and gets lemon juice on it.
Those were the knives that got me through my career as a professional cook. The roll included a honing steel that my parents gave to me that was so perfect, my chef would even ask me to use it. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to find one like that anymore. Not to mention a very nice knife that was a gift from my ex-girlfriend. It was special because it excelled at both chopping an onion and shaving silverskin from beef.
Getting my knives stolen was so detrimental to the point that I was stunned and speechless for a few minutes. It was an overwhelming feeling that can best be described as panicking and feeling desperate at the same time. I thought, How did this happen? Why me? I eventually snapped out of it and called the police to file a report. They told me that chef-targeted knife theft has been steadily rising in Los Angeles because thieves have gotten smart and have recognized just how valuable knives can be resold—especially carbon steel knives. The other day, another cook from the restaurant I work at now got his knives stolen from work, too. It hurts more because cooks know how hard they have to work to make $10, let alone the $200 or more needed to buy yourself a decent knife.
The next morning I woke up and I still couldn't believe what happened. I felt helpless. How was I supposed to go to work without the tools needed to complete my duties? If you work in a cool establishment, your coworkers will lend you their beater knives. These are their inexpensive knives that they intentionally use and abuse. If not, you will have to use a restaurant's beater knives that are used by the morning prep cooks. Those are barely good enough to cut onions and carrots. Using those knives is the equivalent of wearing a size 13 shoe if you are size 9. They feel very awkward and slow you down. You will not be as efficient with the dull edges, which in turn means that you will slow down everyone else in the kitchen. Stolen knives affect everyone in a kitchen, not just the knives' owner.
It still stings when I think about it, and psychologically, I will probably never get over it. It is one of those traumatic things that happens to you and then affects the way you think about people and go about your daily life. I hope no one else has to go through that. If there is one lesson for other cooks to take away from this, it is to not let your knives out of your sight even for a second, and don't trust anybody. And if the guy who stole my knives is reading this right now, I hope he cuts his hand and gets lemon juice on it.
As told to Javier Cabral