We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Chefs are extremely particular about their knives. They even travel with them if they might have to spend a little time in a kitchen.
My chef friend loves her Gunter-Wilhelms. They are not the most expensive professional knives (the best Japanese sets go for $2000+), but she says the Gunters have the heft and authority that she likes.
I purchased the cleaver shown outside the case at Costco years back. Use it for hacking big hunks of various meats. Great for chopping ribs, pork sirloins, etc. Has held it's edge very well. Think it was around $35.
You can tell how serious someone is about cooking, not by looking at the quality of their cooktop or spice rack, but by taking a quick look at the knives. Don't have to be expensive, but if they aren't half decent quality and sharp, it's probably not a cooking kitchen.
Each serious cook will have their own views on this subject. Personally, I like old Sabatier high carbon steel knives made in France. One has to be careful, because the word "Sabatier" is not a registered trademark and therefore may be used on a knife made anywhere in the world, including crap made in China.
For a new high carbon steel knife, made by Sabatier K in Thiers, France, see here:
I would say if you're going to buy a cook knives for Christmas, better make it a gift certificate. Buying a cook a "nice" knife is like buying your wife a "nice" piece of jewelry - unless they've told you exactly what they want, you got no idea what they consider "nice". The heft and the balance and the ergonomics are different from hand to hand.
Forgot which cooking show it was, but they pretty well debunked the snobbery around knives. Good steel of various types is a commodity nowadays. Knives are a niche market for most of these alloys. And production is heavily mechanized (think huge machines stamping out the metal part from rolls or sheets of steel).
It is more important for the layperson to gain expertise at sharpening. Or to buy one of several great systems that simplify whetstone honing.
One quote that stuck: if you are still storing your knives loose in a drawer, don't waste your money on fancy brands.
We long ago quit believing anyone who said his kitchen included good sharp knives. If there's any chance at all we'll be participating in the cooking, my husband brings his own knives in a nice folding case. I'm amazed at what people are willing to use. I agree with Ben David: it's more about keeping them sharp. We don't invest house-mortgage-scale money in our knives.
Henckels Four Stars. Old ones ground from Cherman steel by a bunch of dwarves laboring in the halls of the under the mountain king. And a cheapo restaurant grade Henckels that has an amazing quality blade on it.