I am an advocate for good kitchen knives. I use my knives every day, and know from experience a cheaply made knife makes for a long day and a much higher chance to cut a finger. A good knife can be more finely honed, keep an edge longer, and feels like an extension of your hand.
A few points- just because a knife is expensive doesn’t make it the right knife for you. Knives are very personal, and you want one that just feels right (kind of like the perfect purse!) The way it feels in your hand can mean the difference between a chore and actually enjoying cooking. I like knives with a little extra weight towards the bolster, or the part where the blade joins the grip, as I am just used to the weighting of knives in that manner. I know many people who like a more evenly balanced knife, and that’s fine too. Find your perfect knife and you’ll be much happier.
What knives to you need? Not as many as you think. Almost all kitchen tasks can be done with 3 or 4 knives. First, you need a good chef knife. This can either be a western style knife or a santoku, or Japanese general purpose knife. I use a santoku knife far more than I use my traditional chef knives, as it seems to be better for multi-tasking. For me, this is the workhorse in my kitchen and handles most slicing and dicing. Secondly, you need a good paring knife, 3 to 4 inches. Third, you need a good utility knife. I like a 6” knife for this purpose. A utility knife has a thinner blade than a chef knife, and is used for slicing, trimming meat, etc. You can probably get my almost any kitchen task with just those knives.
If you want to expand, my next knife would be a 12” serrated slicing knife, for slicing bread. I slice a lot of briskets, prime ribs, and pork roasts, so I would also get a 12” smooth blade slicing knife with a “granton” edge, or small indentations in the blade that helps it slide through meat easier. My last “have to have” knife would be a flexible utility knife, which I use a lot for breaking down cuts of meat, trimming tenderloin and fish, etc.
What knives do I have? First, I have a lot of knives, but that’s kind of been an obsession over the years. Secondly, I now stick with two main brands. My “professional” knives- those I use when I’m cooking a contest, working in a restaurants kitchen, etc are usually Mac Knives (macknife.com.) I think for the quality they are very reasonably priced and mine have held up for years. In my home, I also keep Shun knives, as they are beautiful and have good quality blades. At the house I’m partial to the Damascus type of knife blade in my house, where the metal is folded over to create a wavy look- They just make me feel better when I’m slicing and dicing in the house.
While good knives may seem expensive, when you break it down to what you really need to cook, it’s not. Good knives will last a lifetime, and make preparing food much easier and more enjoyable. Pick out a knife series that you like and simply add to your collection occasionally- I’m sure you will be happy that you did.