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Chef Adam Perry Lang Opens Steakhouse, Starring His Handmade Knives

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The restaurant world is competitive. Chefs are always looking for ways to stand out. Well, Adam Perry Lang might have found a new one. Tonight he throws open the doors to his new steakhouse in Los Angeles. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, Lang has been prepping for the big night. He's been aging beef, tweaking cocktail recipes and...

(SOUNDBITE OF KNIFE SHARPENING)

KELLY: ...Making his own knives.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Chef Adam Perry Lang invites us into the place he's been forging his knives an hour and a half southeast of LA.

ADAM PERRY LANG: Welcome to this crazy shop.

DEL BARCO: Inside the cavernous backyard metal shop is an old blacksmith forge, a gas furnace burning at 2,400 degrees.

LANG: I mean, you know, I'm attracted to fire. What can I say?

DEL BARCO: There's also a massive 600-pound power hammer from 1912. Its pistons are the size of manhole covers.

LANG: We name equipment. So tell her the name.

KC LUND: Mjolnir - after Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. You'll see.

DEL BARCO: That's master bladesmith KC Lund, Lang's mentor and business partner in this knife-making project. For the new restaurant APL - Lang's initials - they've handcrafted 330 razor-sharp knives from imported Swedish steel.

EVAN KLEIMAN: It's insane and crazy and wonderful and generous.

DEL BARCO: Evan Kleiman, who hosts The KCRW show Good Food, says she knows of no other restaurant-owner-chef who makes his own knives for diners.

KLEIMAN: I think the thing about Adam is he has this level of excellence that's just gob-smacking. But he also has this absolutely childlike curiosity.

DEL BARCO: The afternoon we met, Lang multitasked between demonstrating how he makes knives and cooking a delicious lunch with a wok and a grill.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOPPING)

DEL BARCO: The 48-year-old French-trained chef from New York specializes in meat. After working in Michelin star restaurants in Paris, he opened a popular rib shack and a steakhouse in Manhattan. Lang's been featured on "Top Chef" and on his buddy Jimmy Kimmel's TV show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!")

JIMMY KIMMEL: He is master of the grill, barbecue, smoker - anything you can light on fire he is master of. Please welcome chef Adam Perry Lang. Hello, Adam.

LANG: Hey, how are you?

KIMMEL: How are you?

(APPLAUSE)

DEL BARCO: Five years ago, Lang began studying bladesmithing at the New England School of Metalwork.

LANG: I use a blade every day of my life, so I'm super into steel (laughter).

DEL BARCO: The process begins with heating bars of steel in the forge. Lang uses blacksmith tongs to move the steel to the power hammer. He pounds the metal and roughly shapes each blade.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL SCRAPING)

LANG: Basically we're taking two different steels and we're sandwiching it together almost like puff pastry. See; I relate to everything with cooking, so...

DEL BARCO: Then the knives endure a series of hot and cold treatments. He quenches each blade in 483-degree molten salt that's like goopy syrup. After they're tempered, Lang cools them down by dipping them into liquid nitrogen that's minus 400 degrees.

LANG: Use the force, Luke.

DEL BARCO: Lang says this process creates the soul of the blade.

LANG: It's like the Frankenstein moment where it's basically just a piece of metal, and then it becomes something magical.

DEL BARCO: Finally, the blades get sharpened and refined with a series of grinding belts. Lang is passionate about his scary-sharp knives. He swears they enhance the taste of his food.

LANG: There's a finesse. There's an etiquette. Cutting with a sharp knife there's just a certain ease. You can have a conversation with somebody and not have to, like, saw at it like an animal, you know? They're just like, wow, someone took the time to sharpen this knife. This steak must be special. Well, as a matter of fact, that steak is very special. So let's honor it.

DEL BARCO: Lang says he trusts his customers not to steal his handmade knives. They're actually on the menu at APL listed as a deterrent as felony knives. At $950.01, they are a penny more than the fine for grand theft in California. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.