New West KnifeWorks gives a sharp eye and steady hand to the craftsmanship of artistic, world-class culinary tools—tomahawks too.
Written by Jenn Thornton
Like many a pioneer before him, Corey Milligan set out West in search of adventure. When he packed up his pickup in Ohio, he did not see the road ahead, one that eventually led to his founding of New West KnifeWorks in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There were twists (the truck broke down in Muddy Gap, he did ranch work to pay the mechanic) and turns (he worked as a ski bum, a white water-rafting guide and a line cook). It was while working on the line, and toiling with a substandard knife in standard-issue black that Corey took a good long look at the tool in his hand and wondered: Where is the professionally-grade knife with pizazz?
Cut to Corey in a spare bedroom, trying to find the perfect fusion of form and function. “My brother thought: ‘Why, does a sharp knife have to look so damn dull?’” says Mike Milligan, who is the director of outreach for New West KnifeWorks. “The point is—and this is true of all the tools we make—if you love the tool you use, you’re more likely to enjoy your everyday chores.” He’s on to something: Use a knife that looks as sharp as it is and making dinner is a lot more interesting. “For someone who likes to cook, the knife is more than just a tool, it’s an extension of their passion and their personality,” Mike says. “So, we want to make a knife for the culinary artist. Like a brush.”
None of this would matter, of course, were the knives not equally high-functioning—hence, raves from the likes of Saveur, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, as well as from veteran chefs. Credit a product made from high-tech steel formulated for the aerospace industry and traditional knife-making technique. “The other organization of note using its particular combination are the Navy SEALs, so we think we’re in good company in terms of a piece of equipment that is proven to be sharp and durable,” says Mike, citing a fact that John Wayne, who was an enthusiastic cook himself and an advocate for America’s fighting man, would certainly appreciate. “That said,” he adds, “ours are prettier.” Indeed they are, whether a custom creation for the outdoorsman or cutlery like the Teton Edge Santoku knife with the Teton Mountain Range etched on its blade, these are not tools to hide in a drawer but to display. To this end are New West’s handcrafted rock and wood blocks as well as magnets.
It is a long way from Corey’s spare bedroom these days—New West KnifeWorks operates a 10,000-square-foot factory, employs a staff of 35 strong and runs retail locations in the stylish enclaves of Park City, Utah, St. Helena, California, and Jackson Hole. The curious are encouraged to stop by a store and shop the merch or—not making this up—try their hand at tomahawk tossing. “It is incredible for us to think about,” Mike says of New West KnifeWorks now. “We all feel like we’re a part of something special. Like we’re out to prove that the finest cutlery in the world is made in America.” Plus, he says, “Who doesn’t like to toss a tomahawk now and then while shopping for a kitchen knife?”
Feature photo courtesy of Camrin Dengle