[RECESS] is when we get to hear the stories of the good people behind the pop-up. It's our favourite time and we're happy to share the conversations with you.
@thisopenspace: Hey Kevin, tell us about how your fascination with Japanese knives began?
Kevin Kent: I was working in London, England at a place called St. John restaurant. At a tradeshow I met a Japanese knife seller there. He had these incredible knives and I said something like, you’re knives are pretty fancy and all but they’re very expensive and I’ve got great knives and I keep them razor sharp. He said, try mine and tell me what you think. So I cut something with his knife and that was the moment when I realized I knew nothing! All of a sudden I found an incredible tool and I started swapping out all my European blades and buying Japanese ones from this guy. When I moved back to Calgary about 8 years later I didn’t like any of the knives available to me. My goal was to have a restaurant eventually, so I made some contacts in Japan through my London guy and brought in a few knives from a couple different makers to sell to chefs around town. By doing that I hoped to be able to afford a few more knives. It got completely out of hand and now we’ve got five knife stores across Canada and I don’t have a restaurant.
How does using a typical knife compare with using one of your knives?
KK: The biggest difference between Japanese knives and European knifes is that the Japanese use harder steel. Harder steel means we can make the knife sharper and the knife will stay sharp longer. Thats’ awesome. A sharper knife is much safer because when you have to struggle with a dull knife thats when you make big mistakes. A sharp knife doesn’t talk back to you.
I guess it’s the same reason why in Kill Bill, Uma Thurman went to Okinawa instead of to a German because she wanted something from Hattori Hanzo. Many of the their families and businesses who made those swords have turned to making knives, kitchen knives being part of that. The same techniques and tradition go into it.
The idea is that the knife is really silky and smooth when you cut. The best way to think about it, if you’ve never experience that silky smooth cut, is to think about the demands of sushi. If you try to cut raw fish with a knife that isn’t sharp you struggle and fight and at the end you’ve cut something that looks like possibly the dog ripped it apart with his teeth. But sushi looks like little jewels. You need a very sharp knife to do that.
I read that a few times a year you travel to Japan to meet with local blacksmiths, what is your favourite aspect of those trips?
KK: Our last trip to Japan was great. I brought a guy named Kevin Kossowan along who’s an interesting fellow. Hes a great film maker and a hunter gatherer. One of these modern prairie pioneer guys. We filmed a documentary called Springhammer. Right now we’re waiting to see what festivals we might get into!
So we shot this film and we got to do what we always do. The trips to Japan are all about shaking hands, seeing old friends, making new friends, and then seeing what everybody is up to. The blacksmiths always have little side projects going on and little things they’re experimenting with and trying out. Theres one guy in Japan I always go and sharpen knives with. I’m a very good knife sharpener but he the ‘Wayne Gretzky’ of knife sharpening. Its good to work with ‘Wayne Gretzky’ sometimes just to remind me that theres a lot to learn and its just great to see what hes doing because I can always pick something up.
Of course, most of these guys see themselves as skilled tradesman. They are a lot of fun. I’ve been a chef forever, so I understand blue collar guys. I know what we like to do. We like to drink beer, talk about girls, and laugh. So that’s what we do in Japan; drink beer, drink sake, talk about girls, laugh, eat good food, make knives, and sharpen knives! I think it’s really important for the business that we know each other. [end]
#Knifewear's Vancouver Pop-Up is open July 22-27 daily from 11-7pm