Note: If you’re following these posts in chronological order, I need to interrupt my LA eats for this because it’s far more interesting.
After my first culinary skills course, I realized what poor knife skills I had. I shouldn’t say poor, I could do the job… let’s say inefficient. My mother taught me the “straight up and down” motion of cutting, chopping, slicing with the two carving knives we have, and the “hacking” motion with a Chinese-style cleaver. You read that right: I have a total of three kitchen knives in my household. After the course, I realized how much faster things would be if I owned a chef’s knife! And eventually I’ll need my own knife won’t I? Might as well start looking.
Looking for a knife was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. Chef St. Laurent had recommended I get an 6″ or 8″ chef’s knife, either the German brands Wüsthof, or Henkels to start. His personal favorite was the Wüsthof line as it was a bit lighter to handle. Some of my friends are (very) proud owners of Henkels block sets that they bought on sale years ago. My mother is a firm believer in her cleaver; my coworker recommended the ones we sell in the grocery store for $15. The recommendations are endless! Consumer reports seem to agree with Chef St. Laurent, although there’s an ongoing debate between the two main German brands. I didn’t stop there though. I somehow clicked on Japanese knives while researching and this brought on a whole new can of worms. The arguments on German versus Japanese knives were just as you’d see on cars. People love their knives and defend them to the death! Along with the Japanese knives, came the debate of whether an Eastern style santoku knife was better than the Western style traditional chef’s knife. Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!
I was all for a loss and just as I decided to go with the Wüsthof, up came on my twitter feed about a pop-up knife store from Calgary. Better yet, a Japanese knife store. With names I’ve never heard of. Oh…no. The Wüsthof knives will always be there, I can get them any time. In fact, I might as well wait until Boxing Day to get one or maybe even a block set. This pop-up store? Only here until December 31st! I eagerly waited for their opening.
It took me two whole days to make my way there. (I hate you work, you’re interfering with my life). But I made it down last Thursday, excited and a little bit nervous about walking into something I had no clue about. The shop is absolutely tiny and is a sublet of Three Boars Eatery next door. Quickly tiled up, Knifewear opened up shop last Tuesday. When you enter, a selection of books are to your right but you won’t notice.
Why? Because there’s prettier things staring at you when you enter. A huge selection of factory and hand-made Japanese knives! Everybody’s seen knife displays at department stores and the new Williams-Sonoma, I’m sure. This takes knives to a whole new level. They’re so PRETTY. Get use to that description, words like pretty, sexy, rad, awesome were thrown left and right in that shop and the knives deserve it!
Kevin Kent, owner (and president!) of Knifewear, was there and immediately greeted me as I shyly walked in. You wouldn’t think he had such title, just a laidback guy who’s really excited about knives. It really boils down to that and in the hour that I was there, I could really tell that this guy was passionate about Japanese knives. He looooooves them. Starting as a chef, he developed a passion for Japanese knives while working in London. When he moved back to Calgary, he figured the only way he could buy better Japanese knives for himself was to sell a handful of them to chefs. Selling out of his backpack, this is how it all started. Now the owner of four knife shops, he’s a busy guy. He’s kept multiple contacts in Japan, even helping to design a couple lines which are exclusive to his shop. So you can imagine how much I appreciated it when he spent some time with me answering my newbie questions and showing me his beauties.
First question: chef’s knife or santoku? The traditional chef’s knife edge curves more towards the tip, allowing more of the rocking motion I was taught in the culinary skills course. A santoku knife has a straighter edge, more like a cleaver, and discourages the rocking style cuts. The gyuto is the closest the Japanese has to the European style chef’s knife and even then, it’s not as curved. We figured the santoku shape would be more appropriate for my every day needs. Plus, I was in a Japanese knife store. Of course they have Eastern style shapes!
Second question: which santoku knife is good? Oh… my. This was the hardest part. Dumb enough to think that I would have to only chose from a few, I stood in one spot as Kevin selected a knife from each line he carried. His opinion: try them. The photo above was only half of the selection he presented to me and even that was a just the smaller 6 – 7″ knives. The first knife I handled, I was shocked. Light as a feather. It feels as if you’re holding one of those plastic knives at a BBQ. The next knife, even lighter.
Third question: is there any disadvantage to a light knife? In my mind, my teeny tiny figure has barely any force to cut through an older carrot, much less through proteins and carve around bone. Forgot to note though that my knives at home aren’t as sharp was the ones I tried in the shop. That could make a difference. Kevin’s response: to each his own. Everybody’s different, everybody’s feel will be different and how you use the knife will be different. Basically, it’s all personal preference.
After five minutes of handling, I narrowed it down to two. I tried not to look at prices (my philosophy with clothing and bags), and tried to see what was most comfortable handle, lightness, balance of the blade, and Kevin’s suggestion, “how badass it looks.” True. I’d get major points if I had one sweet looking knife. Nobody has to know I don’t know how to use it. The two I chose: a 180mm Haruyuki Tsuchime, factory made and a 165mm Konosuke Sakura, hand made. Two different knives, two very different price points. I found the handle of the Haruyuki to be more comfortable but maybe because it was more Westernized and what I was already use to. The Konosuke had a D-shaped handle, was smooth, but I was afraid of losing grip if my hands were wet. Other than that, both blades were gorgeous. Except…
The Konosuke Sakura was 100x sexier. The cherry blossom design is unique to the line and the mirror polish only adds to the elegance. As with the other, the damascus pattern would reduce your slices from sticking to the blade and reducing friction between your cuts, much like Granton indentations (hollowed out oval scallops along the blade) on many knives today.
A cutting board with various vegetables is available for you to test out selected knives. The Konosuke Sakura just so happened to be one of the ones you can try. Boy, it felt nice. And my tomato slices? Thin. No juice. Between the two, I just can’t decide. I have yet to test out the German knives (trip to Williams-Sonoma soon!) to see how they feel. I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about the Konosuke Sakura in the meantime though.
To get my mind off of the decision, I asked Kevin if I could watch him sharpen knives. If buying knives wasn’t your intent, then maybe having your existing knives sharpened is an option. The service is available at the shop or you can even mail in your knives to their shop in Kelowna! Fourth question: what are the different waterstones for? Apparently different grit levels for the blades; think: grades of sand paper! Starting out with a lower grit level and working your way up. There’s even different techniques for sharpening one side of the blade on one grit level, and sharpening the other side with a different level, thereby making a unique edge.
Other things in the shop: razors and shaving kits for men (10% for Movember!), tshirts, including Edmonton exclusives with 6-fingered hands, cutting boards, waterstones, and books (remember?!).
If I had that much fun in a knife store knowing next to nothing about them, I can’t even imagine what chefs are going through when they walk in. They must be having some sort of culinary-tool orgasm, completely unrelated to the foodgasm we all know of. If you’re in the area, drop in and take a look. The selection in unreal and you get to learn so much from these guys. If you want to walk in with knowledge in hand, their website is a great place to start! Thanks so much Kevin (and Jordan!) for your time. I had a blast and you can be sure that on my next day off (Tuesday), I’ll be testing out German knives! I have a hunch I’ll be back for a Japanese knife though. 😉 Any thoughts?
November 29, 2012 Update: Check out what I ended up with here!Knifewear
8422 – 109 St Twitter: @KnifewearYEG November 20 – December 23: 10am-6pm
December 24: 10am-2pm
December 25, 26, 27: Closed
December 28 – 30: 10am-6pm
December 31: 10am-2pm