The sharper image
Adam Simha likes to paly with knives -- and furniture. That is, he likes to create cool, new designs.
When Radius chef Patrick Connolly teaches his Saturday morning cooking classes at the Financial District restaurant, there is inevitably a question about the type of knife that he's using. Participants in these classes are often perplexed to see a chef in one of Boston's most well-respected restaurants skillfully chopping with a knife that is fitted with a sparkly green bicycle handle, not unlike the handle you might see affixed to a bike with training wheels and a yellow plastic horn.
"A knife is very personal," Connolly explains. "For me, it's something that I have in my hand several hours a day, so it has to fit me perfectly. I also like the fact that this knife has some character."
Connolly's knife of choice is an eight-inch slicer that was crafted by Cambridge designer Adam Simha . From his meticulously organized garage -- which is outfitted as a workshop -- Simha has created a line of knives that has landed in some very prestigious Boston kitchens. Conscientious to a fault, Simha designs, creates, tests, and then retools his knives for comfort and accuracy. But the aspect of the knives that many professional and amateur chefs find so endearing, those children's bicycle handles, were a cheerful accident.
"I just made a knife as a gift with one of the handles," says Simha. "I liked it, and it just sort of organically evolved. I made a few more, and thought, 'Why not?' It's not just a gimmick. One might think that having the bike grips would be an issue because it tends to lock your fingers into a particular position, but it doesn't."
The handles are, in fact, designed for bicycles. He buys them from a company in Tennessee, and then adds them to knives that are made for him at a foundry in Sheffield, England ("It's the same building where Def Leppard used to have their rehearsal space," he says excitedly). Sadly, the Tennessee company no longer makes bike handles with sparkles. Simha, however, found a few glittery, champagne colored-handles in the back room of a Somerville bike shop that he "saves for special occasions."
The 40-year-old Simha followed a circuitous path to reach his current vocation. A physics major at MIT who never intended to be a physicist, Simha spent his 20s and 30s working in kitchens around Boston doing everything from making ice cream at Toscanini's to helping Stan Frankenthaler open Salamander . At night, he was drumming in bands. His most successful project was a raucous trio called Chelsea on Fire , which found a local fan base and even opened some shows for Joan Jett .
But Simha found something that moved him even more than cooking and music. He signed up for a welding and metal class at the Massachusetts College of Art, and found himself taking more classes to get access to the school's workshop. He was making metal sculpture and furniture, primarily teaching himself through trial and error.
"Within the first two days of being in the shop, I had found what I wanted to do," he says. "At that point I had certainly been aware of design as a field, and aware of a lot of elements of modern design, but I began to make more of a concerted effort. I started reinventing and rediscovering every wheel I could get my hands on."
He was so moved by working with metal that he started MKS Design , and began selling his furniture. Sleek, limited-run pieces made of steel, such as his deceptively simple 5 Minute Chair and the 7-12 Lounge , found their way into places like Nissan's American design headquarters and the now-defunct Someday Cafe. His past and present met when he created a sofa, tables, and chairs for Toscanini's MIT shop.
"It's a compulsion," he says of design. "It's something that has grown more and more powerful and profound despite the frustrations that come with running your own business."
When he signed up for a bladesmithing class at Mass . Art, his love of working with metals only deepened. After finishing his first knife, his instructor said: "You could do this for a living if you wanted to."
"At that point I was making pretty rock 'n' roll pieces," he says. "But each one was getting better and more refined. But making the leap [to knife making] and being much more attentive to how I was addressing the materials was remarkable."
Inspired by modern designers such as Hans Wegner and Marc Newson , Simha confesses that he can sit for hours contemplating the smallest details of his designs -- from the handsaw that he adapted into a serrated bread knife, to a game of horse shoes that also comes with faux grenades for "blowing up" a winning opponent.
Although he is still designing and selling furniture, the knives have become his most popular product. Fortunately, he enjoys the process of creating knives enough that he can even overlook the occupational hazards.
"The occasional puncture wound isn't so bad," he says. "I have a three Band-Aid rule before I go to the emergency room, and fortunately I don't break that rule very often."