Stellar advice from Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential:
Brand name? Okay, most talented amateurs get a boner buying one of the old-school professional high-carbon stainless knives from Germany or Austria, like a Henkel or Wusthof, and those are fine knives, if heavy. High carbon makes them slightly easier to sharpen, and stainless keeps them from getting stained and corroded. They look awfully good in the knife case at the store, too, and you send the message to your guests when flashing a hundred-dollar hunk of Solingen steel that you take your cooking seriously.
But do you really need something so heavy? So expensive? So difficult to maintain (which you probably won’t)? Unless you are really and truly going to spend fifteen minutes every couple of days working that blade on an oiled carborundum stone, followed by careful honing on a diamond steel, I’d forgo the Germans.
Most of the professionals I know have for years been retiring their Wusthofs and replacing them with the lightweight, easy-to-sharpen and relatively inexpensive vanadium steel Global knives, a very good Japanese product which has – in addition to its many other fine qualities – the added attraction of looking really cool.
Global makes a lot of knives in different sizes, so what do you need? One chef’s knife. This should cut just about anything you might work with, from a shallot to a watermelon, an onion to a sirloin strip.
Here’s the Global 8″ chef’s knife on Amazon.com for $99.95. Occasional sharpening is accomplished with the MinoSharp Water Sharpener for an additional ~$40.