Always Hand Forged
Noah Rosen was a first-year culinary student at Johnson & Wales University when he met Carole Zheng at the popular International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago. Tagging along with his father, who owned a housewares company, Noah saw the trip as a thinly veiled excuse to explore Chicago, enjoy the cuisine at some fine restaurants, and partake of the bounty of the free samples famously offered at the show. Fortunately for chefs and cooks all over the world, Noah ended up with much more than that as a result of his attendance that day.
For Carole, the trip from Yangjiang, China, to Chicago represented a chance to develop new business for her family’s venerable knife company in the lucrative markets that would be represented at the show. There was a bit of destiny involved in the opportunity; it had only become available to the Zhengs when some friends of theirs were unable to make the trip to use the booth they had purchased. It would be a long journey, but Carole and her husband, Alex, their Forgemaster, made the hopeful decision to attend in place of their friend, and Carole was sent overseas with an array of their finest knives to represent the family, and their future, at the show.
It was nearly a century ago that Alex's grandfather, a third-generation fisherman by trade, began to forge blades for himself and other locals. Over the ensuing decades, his son, Alex's father, shifted the family focus fully to bladesmithing. For years, he worked diligently on his craft and became widely known for the quality of his work. He supplied knives to hundreds of local chefs in and around their fishing village in South China.
As a matter of heritage, Alex had grown up around the family forge, and, as a member of the newest generation of his family, he developed grand ambitions for their business. He enrolled in Wuhan University in the Hubei Province to study Industrial Design. Then, after graduation, he learned the true art of forging Japanese-style blades in Seki, Japan, a city with a revered 800-year history of knifesmithing craftsmanship.
The City of Seki is much more than the birthplace of ancient forging skills, it’s also widely known as the home of modern Japanese kitchen cutlery, where state-of-the-art manufacturing and technology have updated those ancient skills to produce a world-class series of steel kitchen knives that are famed throughout the world. After years of study and apprenticeship in Seki, Alex returned to the family forge, where he took over and began to grow production, increasing their capabilities and expanding the styles of knives they produced. He also began sourcing steel from Takefu, Japan, a region known throughout the world for the high quality of the steel produced there.
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Centuries later and a half a world away from the company’s earliest origins, Carole had set up a modestly-decorated table displaying her knives in one of the lesser traveled exhibit halls at this housewares show in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Her location within the show was a bit remote, compared to the high-traffic locations of the elaborate corporate booths for which the show is famous, but, even so, considering her wares, she couldn’t hide from Noah if she tried. Although he had been searching primarily for food samples, as a knife-obsessed culinary student, the truly beautiful Japanese-style knives in Carole’s collection caught his eye and drew him in immediately.
Noah spent nearly two hours peppering Carole with questions about her knives and her family’s story. They discussed knife design, production capacities, steel quality, and every other related topic that popped into Noah’s head. They exchanged contact information, but Noah disappointingly left Carole’s table without a knife, and Carole left the show with no new clients, due primarily to the extremely limited capacity of her small forge, a setup that was, at the time, unable to accommodate the size of the orders the large established companies would demand.
In the weeks that followed the show, Noah couldn’t get Carole’s knives off of his mind. Their unique beauty had made an indelible impression on him. The Zhengs didn’t forget Noah, either, as, the following month, Noah was notified that a package had been delivered for him at his residence hall at school. To his complete surprise, it was a box of knives shipped from China by Carole and Alex.
They were beautiful and obviously well made, but not exactly the precise look that Noah had imagined since the show. He contacted Carole to thank her, and he convinced her to produce a sample that more closely approximated his own custom design specifications. After a few weeks of back-and-forth, another sample arrived. It was their very first flagship 8” Gyuto!
Noah took his new custom knife to his culinary lab, and it became the talk of the class. Taking in the enthusiastic interest expressed by his classmates, and sensing the unmistakable potential demand for this knife by so many other young chefs, the proverbial lightbulb lit up over Noah’s head. That day, the concept of the brand that would become Forge To Table was born.
In April of 2018, with demand exceeding even his most optimistic expectations, Noah launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to take preorders for the next generation of Forge To Table knives and expand the brand’s lineup to include the 6” Utility knife and 10” Sujihiki knife. The company was off and running, and, to this day, its popularity, along with the demand for its products, has continued to grow every month.
Meanwhile back in China, Alex and Carole now run the forge full time, with a team of 5 blacksmiths, 3 expert handle polishers, and 3 workers who focus exclusively on sharpening and finishing. The success of the brand soon required expansion, additional kilns and more equipment, enabling the Zhengs to continue to meet Noah’s vision of creating affordable blades with the style and craftsmanship that chefs everywhere need… and deserve.
Noah immediately got to work with Carole, and they started production on their first 250 8” Gyutos in late spring of 2017. Determined to see where this budding brand could go, Noah took out a loan to cover his tuition, along with the help of academic scholarships from The James Beard Foundation and the California Restaurant Education Foundation. He withdrew what was left of the savings he had squirreled away from his high school job and his internship as a cook at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, CA, to fund the down payment on raw materials for the new knives.
Over the next few months, Alex the Forgemaster and his mostly-family team worked hard to produce the first run of blades. Noah worked with Carole to finalize designs for their distinctive wooden box packaging and build a new brand of knives. It took nearly six months to sell his first 250 knives online from his dorm room, but Noah reinvested all of the profit back into building the brand and ordering new inventory.
The following year, he convinced a local culinary goods shop owner to purchase a few knives wholesale to offer to her customers. On his way home after making that sale, he received a call from the store’s owner. She’d sold out and needed to reorder! Noah spent the following week driving back and forth between school and her shop to re-stock her supply.
Every single step of the process of creating a Forge To Table knife is executed exclusively by hand, from hammering, to sharpening, to polishing the handles. Some of our team members have been making knives for over 50 years and were on the original crew with Alex's father. Others joined Alex after he returned from his international studies and have forged blades with him for about ten years. No matter how large the forge grows, Alex will always hand sign every box, his personal guarantee of quality, and every box will be hand stamped with the seal of his brand and the family forge.
Forge To Table was founded to meet the needs of the industry and of home cooks striving for greater performance in their kitchens. Direct access to thoughtfully designed tools can not only improve a cook’s skill in the kitchen, but it can also make cooking enjoyable, even after the longest of days.
Forge To Table is also committed to supporting the restaurant industry through our charitable work with culinary organizations both local and national.