The dream began taking shape for a South Carolina boy as he watched swordsmen in Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian movies conquering their enemies. It ignited a passion for a kid who was not popular and thought of himself as an outcast. The fire Quintin Middleton first felt at seven or eight years old grew into a passion that still burns today.
“I met someone that made knives for a living, and I lit up. I was just like, ‘Can you teach me?’” The founder of Middleton Made Knives was 17 at the time. He refused to give up on his desire to become a sword and knifemaker despite being turned away by all but one of the bladesmen he approached. No Black men were practicing the craft anywhere near Charleston, South Carolina and very few in the U.S.
“It was so hard for me as a Black man to be a knifemaker. No one would give me the time of day or answer questions,” Middleton says. “A lot of them were hesitant about giving any information. They saw a young Black man infringing on what they are doing.”
Apprentice to Bladesmith
The generosity of one South Carolinian delivered Middleton from the discouragement he encountered. Jason Knight, a celebrity in the knife-making world, agreed to be the teenager’s mentor. “Mr. Knight grew up in an all-Black community. He’s White, but he is technically Black, spiritually,” Middleton says.
Knight appeared as a judge on the popular TV series “Foraged in Fire.” He allowed Middleton to work beside him as an apprentice, but not without some reservation. “When Jason took me on, he was very reluctant. He told me just about every day, if you are serious, I’m serious.”
Middleton proved he was passionate and committed to learning. Knight tested his young apprentice’s resolve over six years with a tough-love approach to teaching. He taught his protégé how to make hunting knives, swords and fantasy-style weapons. Later, Knight would describe his former student as “the GQ craftsman” because of his artistry and style. “I thought I was going to make hunting knives and swords just like him, but I had a dream, and the Holy Ghost told me to make kitchen knives.”
- Careers in Culinary II: Food Lovers Choosing Different Paths to Success
- Careers in Culinary Part I: Food Lovers Choosing Different Paths to Success
Crafting for Chefs
That spiritual inspiration changed the course Middleton started on and set him on a journey with new challenges. He started calling a long list of top chefs in Charleston to sell them on buying his handmade knives. “Every last one of them turned me down because I was calling as a salesman,” Middleton says. “I had another encounter with the Holy Spirit saying call this certain individual back, and he will help you develop a knife instead of selling him a knife.”
Once again, his persistence paid off. Executive chef Craig Deihl welcomed the young knifemaker into the kitchen of Cypress restaurant, where Middleton started learning the difference between making knives for cooking instead of for hunting. “That first day, he was nice, but after everyone left, he told me, ‘Okay, these knives are cool, but they are not functional. They are too heavy. They are too clunky. They are not very precise tools.’”
Middleton spent hours with Deihl and his staff. He needed to reshape his knowledge of how a knife performs in the hands of chefs. “I stood in their kitchen. I watched them, and I saw how they move, and I saw how they operate. I watched different cooks, and I designed knives around what I saw.”
A Great Knife, a Great Price
The true mission of Middleton Made Knives was born. Handcrafted creations of the company’s founder have made their way into the kitchens of numerous celebrity chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, Edouardo Jordan, JJ Johnson, Robert Irvin, Roblé Ali, Sean Brock, Todd Richards and Duane Nutter. The prices for one of Middleton’s chef knives range from $100 to $1,500 or more. Handmade knives that cost $600 to $1,200 are too expensive for most line cooks or home cooks, so Middleton created another option. “I have a line I am making now called Echo. That’s generated for line cooks because that is in a price range of $200.”
Middleton advertises his knives with the motto, “Every great chef needs a great knife, at a great price.” Coming from a family of cooks, he also knows why it is not just professional chefs who need the right tools in the kitchen. A dull knife makes cooking a chore for anyone. A well-made knife is durable, retains its edge and stays sharp longer. “When you have a knife that is sharp and performs well, you can cut up, you can talk, and you can sip wine. It’s an enjoyable event,” Middleton says.
The knifemaker and his three brothers all learned to cook growing up, and one of them is a professional chef. An uncle once told him, “You can’t get a job if you don’t have the right tools.” Middleton puts that advice to good use by making the best knives possible for people who cook. “I have to get great steel and great hanging material and put those together with the skills that I have. Basically, I am a chef in my realm.”
Making top-shelf knives by hand involves heating, hammering and shaping high-quality steel and tempering it. “Just like baking a cake, I have to get it to a critical temperature, cool it down and heat treat it to get it strong enough to withstand the work.
Middleton employs a local company with plasma cutters to help produce the knives in the Echo line and keep them affordable. However, he and his three employees finish each of those knives by hand. All of his other knives are custom made by hand from beginning to end. He envisions a day when he will have plasma cutters and every piece of machinery necessary to produce larger quantities of quality knives in his own shop.
The bladesmith has even higher ambitions for the future after 17 years of crafting knives. His mindset is one of an expert who is always willing to learn and accept critiques of his work. Ultimately, he wants Middleton-designed blades to carry the same mystique associated with those made in Japan. His mission is setting a new standard for American-made cutlery. “I want them to say knives from America made by this Black man are the best.”
After nine years of making knives for cooking, Middleton is making progress toward achieving such a lofty goal. Olde Towne Cutlery, one of the online companies selling his wares, says, “Quintin Middleton is one of the finest kitchen knifemakers in the country.”
An article appearing in Communities Digital News refers to Middleton Made Knives as world-class. Duane Pemberton says, “There’s a reason why a Rolls Royce costs more than a Mercedes; it’s all hand-crafted. These knives are in that echelon of products that deserve serious consideration as a life-long investment in your culinary adventures.”
Vision Forged by Faith
Whatever direction Middleton’s vision takes in years to come, it will be guided by his faith. He believes in giving back on multiple fronts. First, he is willing to share his knowledge with anyone passionate about becoming a bladesman, if he or she devotes the time and attention to perfecting the craft. Second, Middleton wants to grow his business so that he can build a factory that employs people in his community. “There are a lot of knifemakers out there, but there are very very few Black knifemakers. I’m the only one making chef knives.”
- Chef Anthony Thomas Finds the Power of Food Through Life’s Lessons
- Tanya Fields on Educating and Empowering Women of Color Through Food
The South Carolina craftsman sees Middleton Made Knives as a ministry with the power to transfer positive energy. It flows from the knife he made to the chef or cook and onto the person eating what was created. For Middleton, handcrafting a chef’s knife is a spiritual practice forged by the fire in his soul as he works. “I’m listening to gospel music. I’m listening to sermons. I am praying while I am making these knives,” Middleton says. “The Holy Spirit guided me to this point, so now it’s my hard work, my skills and loads of prayer that will keep me there.”
Middleton Made Knives are sold on the company’s website as well as in some shops and through several online cutlery stores. Call 803.216.1298 or email email@example.com for more details on knives customized by type, size and handle. You can also follow Quintin on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.