Kramer Knives, Erk Desjarlais, Author, Bob Kramer, Master Bladesmith, Seattle, Washington, Eric Clapton, Kitchen Knives,


In 1967, an ardent fan of Eric Clapton spray-painted the now famous slogan “Clapton is God” on the wall of an Islington Underground station. There is a notorious photograph of a dog doing his business on the same wall, and later in an interview, Eric Clapton agreed with the dog. “I never accepted that I was the greatest guitar player in the world. I always wanted to be the greatest guitar player in the world, but that’s an ideal, and I accept it as an ideal.”

Fast forward to 1997. Washington, Arkansas. Journeyman Bladesmith Bob Kramer builds a knife from raw materials, slices through a one inch thick rope with one swing and then hacks through a 2X4. After all the mistreatment, the blade is still sharp enough to shave the hair off his arm. The knife is placed in a vice and is bent 90 degrees without breaking. A group of Master Bladesmiths dub him one of their own. A star is born. Or forged, I guess. 

Again, fast forward to a year later, when I, a young cook, see one of Bob’s handmade knives on a cutting board in a restaurant in Portsmouth, NH. I was working for Chef Jeff Tenner, at Ciento, a new Spanish Tapas bar in Portsmouth, NH.

“Chef, what is this?”

“This is a Kramer.”

“Chef, what is a Kramer?”

“Erik, a Kramer is the best and last knife you will ever use.”

“Chef, how do I get one?”

The handle was cocobolo, the rivets were brass, the blade was high carbon. I held it, and it balanced perfectly. Literally, I could balance the knife on my finger at the bolster. I simply had to have one. In 1998 there was a year long wait for a custom handmade Bob Kramer knife. I connected with Bob, and after an hour long chat about everything from honing, sharpening, slicing, maintenance, barber strops and tung oil, I had convinced him to make me some knives. I ordered a 9” chef’s knife and sent him $50 as a deposit. I think the total on the knife was $300. An insane amount of money for a 23 year-old line cook. I don’t recall how long I waited for my shiny new Kramer, but it was well over a year.

Over the course of that year or so, I ordered a slicer, a boning knife, a 6” blade, and a paring knife. I honestly have no idea how I paid for those knives, but it was a wise investment of course, with hindsight being 20/20 (and the fact that most of the Damascus blades these days run $300 per inch). The knives came, one by one, wrapped in nifty cardboard sheathes.  The anticipation involved in waiting for these knives was borderline nauseating. 

As they arrived, I would remove the sheath, and they would make the same noise that samurai swords make in the movies. “Ssssshhhhhingggg!!!!!” I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. Slicing through mirepoix vegetables... I didn’t have to put any pressure. The weight of the knife was all I needed. Soon thereafter I commissioned a bird’s beak knife to complete my set.

Eric Clapton was once quoted as saying “I’m an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.” This sort of duality I can definitely connect with. I know that sometimes I can do nice things, but there are always the times that I call myself an idiot for doing what I do, and not making it better. So can Bob. Jerry Bowen from CBS asked Bob, “How good are you?” Bob simply replied “Pretty good... pretty good.”

The term “Journeyman” has always resonated with me. I strangle myself with the ideology that the day I die I will be a good cook. Until then, I’m working my way down the path to excellence, trying not to fuck it up too badly. A craftsperson is always striving for a result. A result, mind you, that is a reflection of their innate sense of purpose. Be it practical or artsy. I don’t believe cooking is purely an art, nor do I believe the act of playing music is, either. Kramer describes it like this:

“I believe I chose to pursue knives because they are the nexus of science, art, and craft. Knives challenged me at every level. They are like food in many ways. Even though we have been cooking food for thousands of years there is still something to learn about food and so it is with knives. If I spent every waking minute I have left thinking about knives I still do not have enough time to understand it all. Knives have also kept me connected to the world of food which I’m still very passionate about.”

Among other things, Bob Kramer has been a circus clown, a chef, a waiter, and a knife sharpener. He began to understand knives in the late 1980’s and never looked back. He has been an apprentice, a student, a teacher, and a superstar. Kramer abides by the old Buddhist theory that there are teachers everywhere; you just have to be a willing student. A true journeyman at heart, he knows that even after 18 years immersed in bladesmithery, the future holds no barriers. Kramer and I have maintained a professional relationship for about a decade now, so I asked him where he sees himself in another 10 years:

“In 2020, I see myself deeply immersed in some art knife projects which I’ve been thinking about for years. These pieces will take months to build and will require all the knowledge I’ve acquired to date and some skills I’m still building.”

In 1989, Eric Clapton released a seminal album called Journeyman. It was a reflection of his almost 30 years of being a blues guitarist and God. It proved to be a spectacular piece of work, but we all knew that he would go on to do better things. Different things. I mean, the Yardbirds didn’t last, neither did Blind Faith or Cream. But Eric Clapton did. 

Eric Clapton changed the face of blues, rock and roll, and even pop. He is one of the most influential guitarists in history, and still keeps a level head about it. One of the first “jam bands” as the kids put it these days, was Cream. A skinny white kid playing like Muddy Waters and BB King.

Bob Kramer may be a soul mate of Eric Clapton, first in the practical application of their crafts. Second, in the complete mastery of their crafts. Third, the fact that they both have many years ahead of them to astound us with the continuous refining of their crafts.

I am currently washing my Kramer blades, after a night of service. Buffing them and wiping a layer of tung oil on the handle, they will be put away in my drawer for the night. I am then buying my plane ticket to Olympia Washington to deface a public transit system with the words “Kramer is God”.


Details of Bob Kramer’s recommendations for restaurants in Seattle, WA.

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