Branding Product Review

The Milk Street Nakiri Review and How They Market Made in China as “Japanese-Style”

Rachael Ray, Kim Kardashian, and Milk Street all use their notoriety and online marketing ability to sell you stuff, which is not a problem. Although, if you are here reading this, you are not the impulse buyer they were hoping for unless it is a Snuggie. Then it is assumed, “Shut up and take my money.”

Most people do not care because the more stuff, the better (just consume), but the assumption is that it is not you. You do not fall into that camp because you are here, and you want to know more about the company and how the Chinese-made Milk Street naw-cure-ree compares to a Japanese-made nakiri.

Any successful business you interact with should communicate (marketing) their benefits to you (the brand). Milk Street seems to be taking products in Asia (wok and Asian-style knives), which they tout they developed for us Americans, but is that true?

After being relentlessly fed all their ads for their “Japanese-style” knives, it sparked my interest as to what part of these knives is Japanese, aside from leaning on the Japanese to market their made-in-China knives.

I specialize in building brands, and I will go over the Milk Street brand which is a reflection of Christopher Kimball and his gin rummy staff (54 of them on Linkedin). So you may love the dude, but this is a breakdown of his branding and marketing ability.

Their idea of “new and improved” was to go from a Japanese steel (AUS-8) to a German steel (1.4116) made in China, yet that has not stopped their use of Japanese references throughout their marketing copy. Image by Milk Street.

The Milk Street Brand and Product Review

Christopher Kimball, the founder of Milk Street, and who I have nicknamed Bowtie, is the guy most associated with America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Well, that is till he left, then he was mired in controversy and lawsuits to follow after starting Milk Street in 2016 in competition with ATK.

The lawsuits claim he allegedly “literally and conceptually ripped off America’s Test Kitchen.” So aside from the concept, Milk Street also calls Boston home, like ATK.

Christopher Kimball aka Bowtie and Milk Street is an “instructional food preparation” outlet that looks like it is largely based on America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). So right off, they had no new ideas for the Milk Street brand.

In the ever-changing world, technology, specifically the internet, has democratized our ability to broadcast our voice, so we no longer rely on newspapers, radio, or television, like the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) that gave rise to a select few like Bowtie.

I have watched America’s Test Kitchen before, and I have seen some of that site’s poor content on Japanese cuisine, and you can read about it in my mirin versus komezu blog post. So his latest copycat venture, Milk Street, I had very little interest, although after getting fed his ads over and over for “Japanese-style” knives, I had to dig into who Bowtie is and what Milk Street is up to.

See all those stamped holes? It is not a tshuchime to prevent food from sticking or grantons otherwise they would be on the cutting edge side. What they are, are areas where food particles can get trapped or opportunities for Milk Street to drop in Japanese words/terminology. Image by Milk Street.

What Milk Street touts their brand to be about:

“Milk Street is changing how we cook by searching the world for bold, simple recipes and techniques. Adapted and tested for home cooks everywhere, these lessons are the backbone of what we call the new home cooking.”

– Milk Street

Is your food and culture bold? If so, it will be adapted by Bowtie.

Most of Us Tend to Think Our Side is the Best Side

If you are an American reading this, all of us are guilty of being American-centric, and we tend to think of everything from our point of view. Also, if you are not American, you are not off the hook either, and you probably do the same because we all have our hunter-gatherer instincts deeply buried in all of us.

After all, they are there for a good reason, to fear the unknown/foreign because “Ewww, they probably use icky-foreign ingredients like bat wings, and our white chicken breast and non-gluten milk is the best.” Well, those homo sapien/neanderthal instincts just saved you from eating stewed bat wings in an MSG-laden soy sauce (BTW, no bat, only chicken wings in a bold soy sauce and Shaoxing wine-based marinade).

Christopher Kimball or Milk Street, the American brand, is marketing that they can outdo multi-generational Japanese craftsmen in a region with 800+ years of bladesmithing tradition. His solution for his nakiri was to have it made in China.

Milk Street believes they can, and they are betting that you believe that they are an authority on all things Asian. Your gateway to the foreign through a familiar pasty medium.

The fear of the foreign is why you may not be surprised that Bowtie called upon Fuchsia Dunlop because the mainstream media has touted her restaurant as the “finest Xi’an restaurant in London.” She also shares the same pasty complexion as Bowtie and probably does not use MSG cuz icky.

So for his segment “Home Cooking, Chinese Style,” you can assume he did not enlist a Chinese person because that would be a little too foreign for him and his older Bost-on audience, and he is keeping it Eurocentric-style (no wonder he has his YouTube comments turned off).

Milk Street takes from the Chinese culture, unless they are selling you a wok. Then it is just that, a wok. No mention of China or promoting Chinese cuisine that all of Asia can thank for contributing to their food culture from Korea to Japan. Globally, you can also thank China for noodles, chicken noodle soup, catsup, and a ton of other contributions. Except, Milk Street promotes Fuchsia Dunlop from London.

Also, for the record, is Fuchsia Dunlop just as capable or more than an ethnically Chinese person? Yes, possibly, but that is not the point. The point and focus should be that Bowtie did not enlist a Chinese cook/chef from the good ole U.S. of A, and he sought out a non-Asian from England because Euro-fetish.

Oishii-Desu (Oye-She-Des) Exists to Demystify the Foreign

Growing up, I heard it all about seaweed, a rice ball, or raw fish because it was all met with “Ewww, gross,” or the redneck jokes of “fish bait,” to the foreign depiction in the Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwald eating it for her lunch because she was the princess.

In the 80s, sushi was foreign, and Milk Street is introducing their “Japanese-style/inspired” knives made in China to people who may have never heard of a foreign sounding nakiri, except it’s not the 80s.

For content/shows on food in general, Bourdain is a legend and Will Sonbuchner and his YouTube channel, the Best Food Review Show are where people are turning to because of outdated views like Bowtie.

The rest of America at the time, in the 80s, were the jocks, a nerd, or a weirdo, who were all unaware of and grossed out at the thought of sushi. Even Benihana at the time had to distance itself from the idea of raw fish by serving grilled meat because Murica in the 80s.

In 2023, almost 40 years later, I suppose the vast majority of us are in the princess league because there seems to be a quasi-sue-she restaurant on every corner, yet Bowtie and the Milk Street brand are still living in the past. In the last decade, Bowtie has continued his Eurocentric approach of introducing “the foreign” in today’s information age.

The Massa’chuss-sets Made in China Brand Style

Urkel, the iconic character from the old-school sitcom Family Matters from the 90s, and Christopher Kimball both have the bowtie down, but what else is this brand promising other than bowtie fashion?

Milk Street and Christopher Kimball is focused on impulse buyers/purchases, so their criteria are disposable products, and the cheaper, the better, so they turned to China. Except, they want you to believe it is a Japanese product so they hide the “made in” information

Japanese and German knives have a reputation for good reason, but Milk Street has a different criteria, impulse purchases.

There are numerous Japanese and German-made nakiri, yet Bowtie believes you will want his Chinese-made knife because he thinks, you think, he is the bee’s knees. It is that same mentality that many of these other brands below are betting on (that you are enamored and starstruck by them):

  • Rachael Ray: a cook who must know her cookware, EVOO, and utensils.
  • Kim Kardashian: the celebrity lifestyle and aura of Kanye, Ye, Yeezy. Well, prior to Ye going full cray cray.
  • Christopher Kimball: to reinvent and repackage Asian products made in China as “Japanese-style” while avoiding any mention of China.

Their e-commerce platform currently sells Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese brands, but for Milk Street to really profit, they needed to come up with their brand, which is why Christopher Kimball and the Milk Street shuffleboard crew have rolled out their line of oriental products (like Sears, Target, or Rachael Ray cookware).

Trademarking and Owning the Use of Oriental and Japanese-like Words

This tactic is Kim Kardashian territory, and she tried to trademark the Japanese word “kimono” (get it, Kim and “Kim”ono?) because Bowtie and Milk Street have also trademarked Japanese’esque names for their line of Chinese made knives:

Christopher Kimball is not Japanese, Japanese-American, he does not use Japanese steel, his nakiri is not designed by anybody Japanese, and the products are not made in Japan. Yet they tout Japanese-style and trademarked Japanese honorifics “to” and “tan” for their line of Chinese made products.

Bowtie did not have to deal with ching chong or Long Duk Dong references, well, maybe Urkel or Chicken Little. Except now he gets to profit from Japanese culture, and who does not care about any of this? He and a segment of his oblivious AUDIENCE AND FANS: “What’s the big deal? Aren’t China and Japan the same?”

The Japanese have gained a reputation for producing lightweight, razor-sharp blades that reflect their eight centuries of bladesmithing. A reputation respected by chefs to blade enthusiasts that many opportune businesses will use to imply their Chinese-made products are Japanese (the bulk of the knives on Amazon, at least 95%? are made in China under the guise of being Japanese, and Milk Street is no different).

Milk Street relies on Japanese culture to market their product, yet it is not a Japanese petty knife although their team will imply with “Japanese-style.” Image used under fair use.

Why the Japanese Fetish?

The Milk Street knives marketing copy below slip in the use of Japanese words to imply a Japanese connection with the use of “Japanese-style” or trademarked Japanese sounding names which are highly misleading since the product has very little to do with being Japanese.

  • Milk Street / Naw-cure-reee (nakiri), “there is a Japanese knife, kourochi, and tshuchime,” sprinkled about their marketing copy.
  • Milk Street / San-too-tock-you (santoku), wow, no added Milk Street douchiness other than Bowties horrendous pronunciation of every Japanese word.
  • Milk Street / Kitchin-toβ„’, “top quality Japanese steel” (one of the few that uses Japanese steel).
  • Milk Street / Kitchin-tanβ„’, “Japanese-style utility knife.” (aka petty/utility knife).
  • Milk Street / Kitchin-Kiji, “Based on the Japanese kawamuki knife,” “Japanese-style cutting methods.”(they haven’t registered kiji as a trademark yet?)

Milk Street has taken on the tactic used by fake Japanese brands like Huusk “Japan” (a Lithuanian marketing company) and Kamikoto (a Finnish guy and marketing company based out of Hong Kong).

The chef knife to several Japanese styles of knives have influences from Germany and France, yet most brands and sellers do not lean on selling you their product under the guise of being German or French-style.

On the flipside, Milk Street selectively avoids and does not use China as a selling point, yet they sought out to have their products made in China, along with selling a Chinese wok (more about that below).

They should trademark naw-cure-ree, and even though I came up with the American-style pronunciation in written form, I will grant them them the use of it with no regrats (yes, I made a “We are the Millers” reference”).

This is a real Japanese petty/utility knife by Iseya ($60-75).

So how is the Milk Street product “Japanese-style” when it is not made in Japan, not the shape or style of a Japanese utility knife, and not designed by a Japanese person? What is Japanese-style about it? Only the misguided marketing.

Milk Street Avoids the use of “China, Chinese, or Chinese-Style Wok”

Not only is there the Milk Street nakiri ad, but you may have also come across their wok and Milk Street “kitchen-kiji,” in which there is no consistency in the marketing. One product relies on Japanese culture, while the iconic Chinese product, the wok, avoids all mention of being Chinese (screenshots were taken).

The wok was invented almost 2,000 years ago in China, but out of all the woks currently on the market, Milk Street claims to finally have developed a flat bottom wok which is nothing new. They also make no mention of China, Chinese, Chinese-style, or have cutesy Chinese trademarks.

To the core Milk Street audience, I do not think it is it too early to call Milk Street, their “Savior Street”?

Bowtie has a collaboration with Zwilling and J.A. Henckels, yet he does not collaborate with any Asian brands for any of the products he is marketing based off of Asian culture.

You would think a wok that is iconically Chinese would be touted as such, but no, Bowtie avoids a Chinese connection. Image by Milk Street.

One such product is their Milk Street wok of unknown origin which they claim is intended for American home cooks (assuming not Asian American because we know better). In their product marketing copy, they claim:

“After dozens of hours testing 10 woks of varying shapes, sizes and materials, we understand the features that make a great wok. Our redesigned 13-inch wok has high-quality construction, oversized handles for better control, a special dimpled surface for nonstick cooking and a tight-fitting tempered glass lid.”

– Milk Street

Wow, too bad no Asian American or Chinese company was able to figure out what Bowtie and crew had figured out in only a dozen hours.

The Japanese Could Do No better, so Milk Street and David Lewin to the Rescue

Bowtie wants you to believe that the Japanese could do no better after eight centuries, that a Japanese nakiri made in Japan by Japanese craftsmen cannot outdo him, a dork with a bowtie, so who is behind the Milk Street design?

I reached out to ask where their Milk Street naw-cure-reee is made, and this is their official response: “These knives are designed in Spain and made in China.”

An American company from Boston goes to Spain to have their knives designed, yet say it is David Lewin, an American educated designer. Is he somehow Spanish? or is this an effort to keep it Eurocentric?

A design not out of Bost-on and Milk Street did not capitalize on being in the same hood as Need-ham, Glow-chester, Wor-chestershire, or Lemon’mister. A state which is considered the birthplace of the iron and steel industry in Colonial America (missed branding opportunities, except Euro-fetish).

Zwilling J.A. Henckels also have their own nakiri’s ranging in price from $70 to $150. A German brand with many of their knives made in Solingen, Germany and a few in Spain and China (the one pictured is German made).

Milk Street nakiri claims veteran designer David Lewin had a hand in the design, but from what I can tell, he is an American industrial designer. Yet they responded by saying: “designed in Spain,” so is this Bowties’ attempt to give his product a Eurocentric spin which is core to his brand?

Luckily, Industrial design is the field I just so happened to go to school for, so when I saw that dude included a picture of a Corvette Stingray in his portfolio. My first thought of the illustration, like Milk Street, is that Lewin is utilizing a design originally by a Japanese American, Larry Shinoda.

Japan was a vegan country for upwards of 1,200+ years, so plant-based diets and the tools used reflect the food culture in the form of a nakiri vegetable knife (BTW, the Japanese pronunciation is more like “na-key-dee,” not nawww-cuuuuure-reee).

In all those millennia, the Japanese were not able to deliver an appropriate product, but it took China, Lewin, and Milk Street only the time they were founded till now to do what the Japanese could not.

Milk Street’s Chinese Naw-cure-reee versus Japanese Nakiri Brands

Japanese Brand/Made in Japan
Buying a Japanese crafted knife, you are paying for Japanese craftsmanship, the style/design of the blade, and the type of steel used (typically Japanese or Swiss steel), which will retain a razor-sharp edge longer.

Japanese-style/Made in China
Milk Street is made in China and utilizes primarily German steel. If that does not sound Japanese, it is not because it is “Japanese-style” (what is Japanese about it? Vaguely the shape for a couple products?), which is as absurd as saying “Michelin star-style” restaurant for any place that can plate proteins and vegetables.

PRODUCT DETAILSMILK STREET CHINESE NAW-CURE-REE PRODUCT DESCRIPTIONVARIOUS JAPANESE NAKIRI PRODUCT RANGE DESCRIPTIONS
Style of knife:πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ Nakiri (you only get one size 6ΒΎ-inch x 2″)πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ 6.5″ to 7.1″ in range (160mm, 165mm, 170mm, 175mm, 180mm)
Made in:πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³ ChinaπŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ Made in Japan has gained a reputation for quality craftsmen (consistency, metallurgy, and value).
Blade material:πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺ German 1.4116 steel. πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡ͺ The Japanese are known for their steel that range from a SLD, Shirogami #2, VG-10, SG2, to Powdered Metallurgy. Swedish steel is also used by knife brands like Misono. 
HRC range:πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺ 55-56πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡ͺ 55-66
Handle material: πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³ PolymerπŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ All sorts of materials can be chosen, from natural woods, laminates, sustainable animal by-product materials, to Micarta.
Product highlight:πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ The blade is embossed with a nonstick file pattern that replicates the kourochi (blacksmith) or tshuchime (pear skin).πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ Japan has over a millennium of history as a vegan country which contributed to the nakiri and usuba design (regional styles) as a vegetable-specific tool.
Marketing points:πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ With the help of veteran industrial designer David Lewin.πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ Japanese-designed knives by multi-generational Japanese craftsmen in regions of Japan with over eight centuries of expertise.
Going down both sides of these two columns, one is Japanese and the other by the Milk Street criteria is “Japanese-style”

Milk Street went from an AUS-8 Japanese steel to the 1.4116 (also similar to X50CrMoV15 with a 55-56 HRC) German steel which are both equivalent to a 440, although the former had a slightly higher carbon content for better edge retention. How is that new and improved?

Only one of the knives in their product range still utilizes AUS-8 (Aichi Japanese steel), the rest, well, they had to go the Eurocentric path.

So what makes a Milk Street naw-cure-ree a Japanese-style knife again? They don’t tout their wok as a Chinese-style wok when the Chinese invented the wok, but they claim and trademark Japanese-style words to market their Chinese made knives.

If other countries outside France produced a leather purse looking like a Louis Vee-ton (in the shape/design), the Milk Street types would claim French style to imply a connection to French culture based only on aesthetics. That is every counterfeiter’s fantasy entitlement.

When individuals and money come into play, anything goes for the perpetrators and collaborators, like the media and people who buy and support the product and brand.
Want a real Japanese nakiri with eight centuries of history, I got you.

Here are 3 Made in Japan, 1 Chinese, 1 American, 1 Taiwanese, and 1 German Made Nakiri vs. Milk Street

There are two types of products: 1. Products with a dedicated team to design and produce the best quality product at a competitive price with upwards of a century history: Zwilling in 1731, Iseya in 1908, Tojiro in 1953, or Mercer in 1968. 2. Private label products produced by a 3rd party and marketed by celebrities/influencers and marketing companies, like Milk Street, that slap their logo to products made in China.

In any professional kitchen or at your favorite restaurant (show them this article), they will be using one or several of these brands below, minus the Milk Street brand that’s for, you know, them.

The type that isn’t invited to the cookout.

The edge grind (or on a single bevel knife, the concave back, the urasuki) and the shape of the cutting edge are all subtle characteristics of Japanese-made blades. It is not strictly about the types of steel, but these tiny details that impact cutting performance (just like what one chef does with ground beef does not mean everyone is Michelin-style ability).

BRANDDESCRIPTIONPRICE
KanetsuneKC-950 DSR-1K6 Stainless with plywood (laminated wood).
Made in Japan (the Japanese are known for value)
$46-$54
MercerCulinary M20907, X50CrMoV (German Steel), Genesis 7-Inch
Made in Taiwan (a loved American brand by professional line cooks/line cooks/chefs)
$49.00
Milk Street “NEW, IMPROVED NAKIRI VEGETABLE KNIFE”
This is the 2nd edition with German 1.4116 steel. The previous editions used Japanese AUS 8 steel.
Made in China
$59.95
CangshanCangshan S Series 60171 German Steel Forged Nakiri Vegetable Cleaver, 7-Inch (not really a nakiri, more like a Chinese cleaver or a bunka?)
Made in China (support a Chinese American company)
$59.95
TojiroTojiro (FUJITORA) DP 3 Layered VG-10 Japanese Chef’s Vegetable Knife 165mm
Made in Japan (a popular Japanese brand for cooks/line cooks/chefs)
$73
ZwillingGourmet 6.5-inch Nakiri Knife, ice hardened FRIODUR blade
Made in Germany (pictured above)
$85
Iseya I-series 33 Layer VG-10 Damascus Hammered Japanese Chef’s Vegetable Knife 180mm
Made in Seki, Japan (what Milk Street wishes they could be)
$90-110
Town Cutler7″ Nakiri – eXo Blue
Made in Reno, Nevada USA (support an American company)
$185
Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

Look at the big dogs like Zwilling J.A. Henckels, a German brand I love. “Japanese tradition” and “Japanese vegetable knife” is all they say. The main product description will not have “Japanese, Japan, or any Japanese terminology” sprinkled about.

The Zwilling website and its Amazon presence have no excessive use of “Japan” or “Japanese.” Even smaller companies run by a former chef, Galen Garretson of Town Cutler, get it right. They simply state “Japanese-style” for their nakiri handmade in Reno, Nevada, and you should support this type of company over Bowtie/Milk Street.
Photo Description: Shun Blonde nakiri with a light tan handle a tsuchime (hammered finish) and a bunch of Chinese bok choy placed nearby.
This is a legit tshuchime nakiri by Shun, a Japanese brand sold in almost every major big box retail store from Crate & Barrel, Williams & Sonoma, and on Amazon sold through Amazon (typically under $150 and handcrafted in Japan).

All Hail, Bowtie of Savior Street, the Self-Appointed Savior of All of Us Americans Hawking More Japanese-style Products Made in China

“Japanese-style” benefits Milk Street and China, but there are no benefits to the Japanese that the product plays off of. It is as if Bowtie and Milk Street have avoided having Japan get a single cent on purpose.

Also, Christopher and crew may not even get basic Japanese word pronunciation correct (they definitely would not consult a Japanese person). Although unfortunately, all too many Americans might be willing to look past that because Chris wears a bowtie, his shtick.

Bowtie and the Eurocentric shuffleboard crew are playing off of Japanese culture for their own benefit because Milt Street is a pro at stealing ideas from the originators and claiming it for their own u$e.

If you want a Japanese or German made nakiri, however you want to pronounce it (how you pronounce it in the confines of your home is your business), please support the craftsmen that the nakiri is based on below.

In conclusion, if Bowtie reinvented a bold Italian-style ga-knock-chee (gnocchi) produced in China for American consumers, they would hype it to be adapted for Americans because what do the Italians know? That you can expect, but what you should not expect, is the correct pronunciation because that is not who the Milk Street pinochle crew or the Milk Street brand is.

It is not the 80s and all too many people are not buying into the Savior Street ads in the Instagram comments section (a tell of the outdated messaging the Milk Street staff thinks is the cats pajamas).

Yes, I know, Bowtie and crew will say their pronunciation is the American/Bost-on-style, like Her-mee’s (Hermes) and Louis Vee-ton (Louie Vuitton), and I am fine with that. I get it, and it is the MilkStreet way/legacy, fine, boner appetite!

sharing is caring
Brands like Milk Street proliferate in a bubble, so sharing their tactics with the unsuspecting (*ahem* grandparents and parents) will counter the efforts of Bowtie and the shuffleboard crew.

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