From my experience through the many kitchen knives that I've owned, I've come to discover that Western-style chef knives made in China are typically among the worst-performing pieces that I have used. Soft steel, poor balance, and flimsy craftsmanship have plagued every knife I've examined originating from the homeland of my ancestors.
So, it was with very low expectations that I set out to review the AvantGarde Pro 8" chef knife, a model made in China of German stainless steel. Retailing at about $40, the AvantGarde Pro is a half-bolstered, fully forged German-style chef knife that is presumably intended to serve as an affordable alternative to some of the bigger name German brands such as Wusthof and Henckels. I'm pleased to say that my expectations have been exceeded, as the knife not only justifies its price tag, it is ultimately preferable to the brands that it competes against for me.
Aesthetically, the AvantGarde Pro compares favorably to the top German brands. It has more heft than other Chinese-made chef knives that I've owned, actually feeling substantial. The balance is excellent, with the balance point lying about 1/4" in front of where the bolster meets the blade. Fit and finish are similarly excellent, and although I am not a fan of molded handles, the one on this knife is of equivalent quality to that of its more expensive German competitors. Like the Henckels Four Star and Five Star lines, the chef knife has a rat tail tang.
Initial performance impressions were not good. Like the majority of German-made chef knives that I've owned, the AvantGarde Pro comes out of the box dull as can be. Even with its reduced spine thickness (the blade lands somewhere between a Japanese gyutou and a typical German chef knife in thickness measurements), routine chopping becomes laborious quickly.
After a couple of meals prepped with the factory edge, I sharpened the knife myself on a 1000/6000 Japanese waterstone. Although I was unable to put an edge on it anywhere near as acute as on a typical Japanese gyutou, my edge on this particular knife was much improved over the factory edge. The knife's performance subsequently became much more palatable, allowing me to dice onions and mince herbs with ease without crushing the food.
As far as edgeholding has gone, I would put the knife on a par with Henckels and Wustof's higher end lines, so I would estimate that the edge hardness of the blade is around the low 50's RC. What makes this knife preferable to the more expensive German brands for me is its slightly reduced spine thickness, which allows for more aggressive cutting ability with the right edge, and the fact that it has half bolsters instead of full bolsters, which greatly eases sharpening and presumably extends the life of the knife as well.
For $40 retail, the AvantGarde Pro is a great deal for anyone who wants a high-end German chef knife but doesn't want to pay the price for it.