Nanette and Valentine Humer are Napa Valley foodies all the way. Last Christmas, Nanette saw a knife in the New York Times which she bought for her husband because she wanted to give him the “best” knife in the world. Shortly after to her delight, she learned the knife company, New West KnifeWorks (NWKW) had recently opened a retail shop in St. Helena.
Napa Valley is arguably the food and wine mecca of the United States. So, when New West KnifeWorks decided to expand from their Jackson Hole, Wyoming location, St. Helena was their obvious second choice.
“It’s my favorite knife,” said Valentine. “I can cut a lemon razor-thin and you can’t do that with any other knife. It’s perfect.”
“We are all about food and fine tools for chefs,” said founder Corey Milligan. “The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) up the street is a slam dunk. The lifestyle combining love of great food and aesthetics is where we fit in. Our knives are more than just tools, they are highly functional art.” New West knives can only be purchased at their retail locations or on the internet.
Corey’s artistic nature inspired him to create colorful alternatives to the traditional black and white handles. In 1995, when he first started experimenting with knife making there wasn’t any high- level cutlery being made in the United States. The self-taught chef said he didn’t know enough about knives to know whether the ones he was using were high quality or not.
“I thought, ‘hey, here is a tool I use all the time, I like to make things, let’s see if I can make my own knife,” said Milligan. “That morphed into an understanding of how knives are made, and I realized I could do it better myself.”
In 1997, New West KnifeWorks was born. Milligan perfected his craft for the next 12-15 years personally making more than 20,000 knives. He originally bought his steel blades from Japan, but then decided to go there to learn from the masters themselves. Corey perfected his designs in Seki City with the same techniques used to make Samurai swords. That’s why they call their signature line “G-Fusion”; it’s East meets West in knife making, and it’s the best of both worlds.
NWKW took the ultra-sharp and sleek style of the East, and married it with the heartiness of Western style German chef knives.
“I took a lot of design features, the geometry and thinness of the blade from the Japanese style of knife making, but the big difference now is the steel we use – which is state of the art, American made, “powder metal” steel,” he said. “It is higher perform- ing and tougher. Usually, the harder and sharper a blade, the more brittle the steel. Japanese knives are super sharp, but they can get chippy along the edge. Our knives have that same level of sharpness, but they are bomb proof. They don’t break and they don’t chip. All knives are rigorously tested by the top chefs in Jackson Hole before we release them to the public and now we can get that kind of feedback from the pros in Napa Valley too. NWKW knives are in restaurants such as Press, Goose & Gander and Archetype. People can go to these kitchens in St. Helena and see them in action.” Corey sold his knives for a decade on the fine arts and crafts circuit including the Bay Area’s Sausalito’s Art Festival. Then 10-years ago, brother, Michael, a professional actor and New West’s Director of Outreach suggested they procure a booth at one of New York City’s Holiday Markets in Bryant Park. Michael, Corey and Anthony Campolattaro, one of Corey’s rugby team- mates, now New West’s COO, braved the blizzards to sell knives from their outdoor booth a couple blocks from Times Square. Many major magazines’ offices overlooked the park and editors would come down to do Christmas shopping during their lunch breaks. NWKW ended up with a full-page spread in New York Magazine and then, a feature in Saveur – and that helped launch them into the national spotlight. Since then, they’ve been featured in Forbes, Food&Wine, Bon Appetit, NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg… and even, Playboy Magazine’s 60th Anniversary issue in which, one of their knives was pictured as the #1 thing every man should own.
After that stint, Campolattaro went off to New Zealand to play Rugby. When he returned to the United States, he became Corey’s do everything man and ran the first retail store in Jackson Hole where the small workshop started to take on artisans to help meet the growing demand. In the past ten years, the company has grown from a team of four to 32 employees. They recently completed a new 10,000- square foot production facility over the hill from Jackson Hole in Idaho.
They now have seven artisan knife makers diverse in both talent and background.
“I could go on and on about the makers we have in house, they are all extremely talented,” said Campolattaro. “You can’t program a drone or robot to do what we do. They are all hand finished. Erin Hemmings, our resident genius, – made a self-righting sail boat and traveled the Sea of Cortez. Ashley is an extremely talented jewelry maker and Kate builds her own motorcycles.
“Just like cooking, picking the best ingredients is a crucial part of knife-making. We don’t skimp on the steel. We use the finest US made “powder metal” steel available for a chef knife. Once it’s delivered from Crucible, everything is done by hand, the pressing, the epoxy, the shaping and most impor- tantly, the edging,” he added. “You don’t get that with all the other big knife companies. Many of them have outsourced production to China. It’s all done on machines. Each of our knives is touched by hand by at least one of our knife makers who have all apprenticed under Corey or Erin.”
“Erin is always pushing the limits of the cutting edge,” said Campolattaro. “He’s taking the aesthetic possibilities to the extreme with his mixed-media, stone and steel knife blocks. The knives are beautiful, you don’t want to keep them in the drawer. So, Erin creates these stunning ‘rock blocks’ that are like sculptures for the kitchen counter.”
In addition to kitchen knives, New West also makes sharp tools for the outdoor enthusiast. Their newest tool is the Tomahawk.
“The Tomahawk is an extremely durable tool,” said Campolattaro, who along with Corey, is an avid hunter.
New West KnifeWorks stores are an experience in themselves. They are split into two areas with the kitchen knives in front and the “Mountain Man Toy Shop” in the back where you can find custom Damascus hunting knives as well as exotic pocket knives from the likes of men’s luxury designer, William Henry.
While the Tomahawk makes a perfect gift, visitors enjoy trying their hand at throwing the 1.5-pound Tomahawk in the store.
To allay the fears of other shoppers, there is a protective custom metal chaimail curtain that is pulled back for safety purposes. It’s a great way to let off steam after a long day.
“In Wyoming, we sustain ourselves with the outdoors. Almost every member on staff is some type of outdoors or sportsperson. It’s not unusual for the Jackson Hole store to open late on big powder days during ski season,” said Campolattaro.
This summer NWKW is re- leasing two new hunting and fishing knives; The Jackson Hole Outfitter and Bird and Trout Hunting Knives.
Also in the works is their first Gentlemen’s folder. An elegant, high performance and easy to use pocket knife. New West’s knives are all backed by a lifetime guarantee and Milligan hopes to leave the world class legacy behind him. His son, Buck Milligan, inherited the passion for cooking from his dad – and became the first ever Chopped Jr. Grand Champion at the age of 11. His hunting experience with his dad and his knife skills wowed the judges when 11-year old Buck showed off his knife and butchering skills. Now at age 13, he helps out in the Jackson Hole Retail Shop.
“I have a lifetime passion for cooking I share with my family,” said Corey. “We are meat hunters rather than trophy hunters. Hunting and cooking with my son is a great family bonding experience. Also, my brother- in-law, Chris Kidder, was referred to as LA’s Chef’s Chef for his long tenure as Chef de Cuisine at the James Beard Award-winning, Campanile Restaurant. We have a knife named after him that we designed for his elite specifications. When we all get together for the holidays, the meals are next level.
“It’s a super exciting time for us because now I have the resources and staff to do the cool things I’ve always wanted to do” Corey added.
“My goal is not to be the biggest, mega-corporation out there, but I do want to make the most bad-ass tools anyone has seen and be known for making the greatest kitchen knives in the world.” More stores are planned including two possibly in Europe and Asia.
FOR MORE INFORMATION 1380 Main Street, St. Helena 707-224-5188 // www.newwestknifeworks.com