The story of how everyone sets up their spaces for home-cooking begins in the same manner: you head to a kitchen store, stock up on anywhere from 15 to 20 different cooking tools, buy that full knife set (at least one has to be the right one, right?!) and then accumulate more and more as time goes by and spatulas get melted. Soon your drawers are overflowing and every knife in your 10 knife set is dull. Our advice to you (because we’ve been there!) it to completely purge your kitchen of useless tools and head to Material to start anew.
Founders Eunice Byun and Dave Nguyen spent over a year designing the perfect chef’s knife and fundamental kitchen tools, not just with functionality in mind (although the quality is on par with high-end brands) but with style (each piece is a thing of beauty) and price ($75 for a three-layered Japanese steel knife is a great investment). We sat down with Eunice to find out more about the brand and what really makes Material so revolutionary for us amateur chefs.
What were you both working on before starting Material?
Before launching Material, I was leading digital at Revlon and Dave was managing strategic planning at Chanel. Although our backgrounds are different, we’ve found that we balance each other extremely well (our Myers-Briggs are perfectly complementary!), which has been instrumental in building out our company together.
Tell us about what led you here: how did you meet and begin the company?
Dave and I have been friends for over ten years, having met in New York City as former Californians now in the city. We instantly connected over our love of food and design, as we both grew up in families where food was the ultimate love language. Everything happened in the kitchen, and so many great memories were had over shared meals.
A little over two years ago, Dave and I were catching up on life (over a classic New York whitefish platter at Russ and Daughters), as I had just had my daughter. We were reminiscing about how much life had changed for us over the many years we’ve known each other, and how things we used to do when we first moved to New York (bar-hopping) slowly morphed into newfound activities (more hosting and time spent cooking).
Since Dave and I are obsessive about good design, our conversation transitioned into the fact that neither of us had found any kitchen items that we particularly loved and felt inspired by. By our standards, great kitchenware should make cooking more enjoyable and seamless, but everywhere we looked kitchens were becoming unnecessarily cluttered and felt stuck in a period of time.
You spent a year perfecting the 8” Chef’s Knife – what were you looking for exactly and what was the process?
There were many technical details that we wanted to build into our perfect chef’s knife, but at the end of the day, our main goal was to have someone pick up our knife and think to themselves, “This feels good.” We wanted to create a tactile experience where the texture of the handle was buttery and not slippery, where the weight of the knife in your hand felt significant but not cumbersome, and where the motion when chopping felt like it was seamless and almost rhythmic.
We created prototypes and had friends and family test them. We identified the right partners that had the high quality and high-performance capabilities in manufacturing. And we ended up with a knife that our customers love: as many of them have shared with us that they find things to chop because they love the way the knife feels in their hand!
Our cooking doesn’t happen in kitchens with endless space and limitless gadgetry. Nor are we all classically trained chefs who have infinite amounts of knowledge or skill. It happens in tight quarters, with perhaps kids running around us, and clutter on our counters. We wanted tools that had multiple uses or could be versatile enough so you didn’t need to have too many tools. We wanted items that you’d reach for every day, for every meal. Six tools stood out as the perfect foundation. We call them The Fundamentals – the irreplaceable staples.
Each item serves a fundamental purpose (or two or three!) and is designed down to its finest detail using high-end materials. For example, The Only Tongs feature an easy one-handed gravity lock, so simply point up to lock and point down to unlock. The head of these tongs also doubles as a small spoon, aka the perfect companion for basting a steak, and are angled up to keep drippy foods from coming in contact with your countertop.
The Slotted Spatula is flexible enough to flip a delicate fish, yet sturdy enough to hold the weight of a bone-in pork chop.
How can you tell that you’ve got a good knife from a bad one?
There are a couple of things to look for when buying chef’s knives to sort the good from the bad:
First, the balance of the knife. Does it feel well-balanced so that your weight is properly distributed for a cutting motion? You don’t want the weight of the knife to be too much in the front or too far in the back. Ours is perfectly balanced right where you hold onto the knife, at what is called the bolster, so that it feels effortless and natural when cutting.
Second, the quality of the materials. A lot of people advocate for high carbon knives, which we love but the upkeep can be more demanding of a home cook where the knife has to be wiped down right after it is wet so the steel doesn’t corrode. Our 8″ knife has three layers of Japanese steel where the innermost layer has a higher carbon content so that it retains its sharpness over time, but where the outermost layers have less carbon so that it doesn’t rust easily.
Third, the sharpness of the edge. Many people actually injure themselves with dull knives, because it requires more force. Our knife is razor sharp thanks to the 13-degree angle to which it is sharpened and the heat and ice treatments we apply to ensure it stays hard, sharp and resistant to wear and tear over time.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve seen friends and family make when it comes to kitchenware?
Buying massive sets of kitchenware! Step away from the 22-piece kitchenware set as it will likely have things that you will never use and things that will fill up your junk drawer. The other common mistake is thinking that it has to cost $1,000 to be of high quality. You’re probably paying for the fact that those products are sold by a retailer who needs their cut of the pie.
But most importantly to us, cooking is as much about the food and tools as it is the time and company. A kitchen is the soul of a home – so we believe it should be filled with things that matter.