Above: Ryan Duran-Geiger uses high-carbon steel for the labor-intensive process. Photograph courtesy of Ryan Duran-Geiger.
AS AN EIGHTH-GENERATION NEW MEXICAN, Ryan Duran-Geiger grew up in Santa Fe before his parents moved to Panama when he was a teen. He attended culinary school in Colombia and has worked at some of the world’s finest restaurants, including Central, in Lima, and Alinea, in Chicago. But when the pandemic paused his plans as a chef, the 27-year-old turned a knife-making hobby into a fledgling career.
Forging ahead: After moving abroad, Duran-Geiger split time between Santa Fe and Boquete, Panama. On one of those early return trips, he visited the shop of a friend, professional knife maker Eddie J. Baca. “He let me make a knife. I actually started it as a hobby making camp knives.”
Making the cut: While working in the kitchens of chefs such as Virgilio Martínez Véliz and Grant Achatz, the young cook became fascinated with Japanese chef knives. When he needed several blades for a job in Chicago, he decided it was cheaper to make them himself. “I spent a couple of weeks making a full set of knives to use professionally.”
Changing course: When the pandemic nixed a three-month internship at Noma, in Copenhagen, Duran-Geiger suddenly had time—and some savings—on his hands. He bought a belt sander, anvil, and kiln and got to work. “After that, lots of trial and error.”
Sharpening the process: “Especially in fine dining, every single detail has to be perfect and precise,” says Duran-Geiger, who uses high-carbon steel for the labor-intensive process, which requires hours of grinding, hammering, shaping, and tempering. “I try to preserve every detail. The knife is exactly the way it was meant to be.”
Ground to perfection: After hours of chopping under pressure, Duran-Geiger knows what he wants out of a blade. “Every knife has trade-offs,” he says. “The balance of the knife, the handle material, how it sharpens, the thinness of the edge—it all results in a difference in performance. I try to dial in the right balance in my knives.”