Welcome to On Location, where we talk to the coolest cooks and makers around the country about what's inspiring them right now.
Chelsea Miller creates one-of-a-kind knives for celebrity chefs, restaurants, and home cooks. She makes each knife by hand in her studio. After living in NYC and pursuing acting, she found inspiration closer to home. "The inspiration was really just about my connection to home and family. My mother was a macrobiotic chef so we cooked every night and she always had an amazing collection of knives from around the world, and my dad was a carpenter and a blacksmith so we always had handmade cutting boards and he build our family kitchen."
During a trip home to Vermont, she began tooling around in her father's workshop. "Coming back [home] later in life gave me this appreciation for family and connection to handmade things that was really my inspiration for knife making." Now Chelsea Miller knives are on the wishlist of chefs and cooks everywhere.
What was the first kind of knife that you made?
I made all these cheese knives. The material that I use is horseshoe rasps, and the rasps have these little teeth on them and they're used for filing horses' hooves. We had horses growing up so my dad would use them on our horses. I started making cheese knives out of them and leaving some of the grit and filing some of it down. It was really just about creating cool shapes I had never seen before. They were pretty blunt at that time, but as I spent many years honing my craft, they became much more functional.
What's your favorite thing about your job?
The freedom that it allows me. I'm a very social person, but before I'm able to be social I need a lot of time to be alone. I love my job because I get to spend time by myself going over thoughts and feelings that I have and formulating new ideas. I just love the flexibility and I only have to answer to myself and my clients.
What's the difference between a handmade knife and a manufactured knife?
I'm often disappointed in manufactured knives. I feel like we've just seen the same knife for years and years and they're still being produced but they're really not any different. There's a lack of imagination in a lot of manufactured knives; I'm more interested in innovation and handmade knife makers are pushing those boundaries a little more. Instead of starting from the endpoint—I'm going to create this knife and how do I get there—I appreciate the process of taking a material and seeing where it leads.
What's your #1 tip when caring for knives?
This applies to handmade and manufactured knives: water. Water is necessary but also your enemy over time. Always make sure that your knife is clean and dry. Once you're finished using it it's important to immediately clean a knife so it's ready for its next task, but also never let it sit in water or put it in the dishwasher. Make it part of your routine to hand-wash and dry after use.
What's your favorite dish to make at home right now?
This time of year, I cook every night and I love making stews, things you can arrange in a great big pot like chicken thighs, slices of orange, fennel, and herbs on top so it's juicy and colorful.
- 3 things every home cook needs? Cutting board, knife (too obvious?), and an appetite
- Best thing you've bought for your kitchen this year? Moroccan pottery
- Favorite kitchen tool besides a knife? Mom's favorite sauté fork
- Cooking soundtrack? Podcasts. Right now I love The Life Stylist by Luke Storey and Design Matters by Debbie Millman
- Condiment you can't live without? Harissa
- Favorite midnight snack? A spoonful of ghee