Chelsea Miller Knives
Chelsea Miller Knives
Looking at the chef and cheese knives Chelsea Miller makes from reclaimed materials, you won’t be surprised to learn that she comes from a resourceful, close-knit family. Take into account her bright voice and comfort in front of a camera, and you might even guess that the 33-year-old devoted her life to acting before establishing her Brooklyn smithy. Yet Miller’s assertion that her two divergent professions have a lot in common might seem odd – that is, until you hear her story.
The knifemaker grew up on a rural Vermont homestead, where her family tended the gardens and raised the animals that sustained them. Her father was a blacksmith and carpenter, and his kids learned those skills as they assisted him in the shop attached to their home. In many ways it was an idyllic childhood, but Miller struggled with the isolation. Yearning to be surrounded by more people than trees, she moved to New York City to study acting after graduating from high school.
Some 10 years later, her father was struck by a debilitating illness that limited his physical abilities. Miller returned home for a while to help him. There, she found herself puttering in the shop again, as a way to process her father’s illness, and found she hadn’t lost the skills she learned in childhood. A quick demonstration by her younger brother, who was working on some hunting knives, set Miller on the path to the successful career she continues today: knifemaker and business owner with a one- to seven-month wait list, partnerships with leading New York restaurants, and well-known chef friends such as Massimo Bottura.
For Miller, knifemaking is another form of her fundamental passion: storytelling. Her knives are made from materials that have lived another life, making them both utilitarian tools and sentimental objects that carry memories of her family, childhood, and natural surroundings into kitchens around the world.
Take her blades, formed from high-carbon steel farrier’s rasps, tools for filing down horse hooves. Miller keeps their cross-hatched teeth intact so that her blades do double duty, providing a surface for grating as well as for slicing. She remembers seeing rasps around her family’s farm; she was captivated by the elegance of their texture and design.
For handles, she uses spalted maple, walnut, and applewood from her family’s acreage. “Whenever I’m there, I’m cutting into logs that have been lying around or searching through lumber that my dad had been storing for years and years,” Miller says. Her Brooklyn furniture-making friends also give her walnut scraps for the same purpose. She gathers the rasps from farriers in Vermont and upstate New York, although occasionally she orders them from a manufacturer to meet demand.
Throughout the knifemaking process, Miller has the sense that her dad, who died last summer, is with her in the studio. “I always felt that he is a part of my work,” she says. “The fact that he lost so much ability in the beginning [of his illness] – I almost felt this sort of spiritual thing, where I felt like a lot of his ability, or a lot of his intentions in making things, was passed on to me.” In that sense, she is carrying on her father’s legacy, one knife at a time.
Family values: Miller’s upbringing taught her to be resourceful. “When you come to a place where you have a problem, there’s always a solution nearby.”
Go with the flow: Miller advocates for less planning and more doing. “I feel like our imagination is limited, and what actually happens during the process is far more grand.”
Entertainment industry: Miller’s not a big fan of cooking for herself but loves making food for her friends. “I get really excited about prepping for the Friday-night dinner with everyone coming over. I start buying things on Monday and thinking about the menu and the flowers and the cheese and the wine and the candles and ...”
Soulmates: Miller recently introduced a luxury steak knife set, which she designed and had produced by a company in Thiers, France. “It’s this tiny little town with 150 knife companies in it, and everyone is a knifemaker there. They’ve been making knives for over seven centuries.”