Well well well, the media have been talking about us again. First off is a great article in the Canadian Restaurant News about Kevin, Knifewear, and our role in the restaurant community.
Next up are a couple mentions about the Offcuts 2017 Charity Calendar. We're extremely happy with the way this has turned out and the reception so far. If you haven't yet seen it, please come down to the shop and check it out.
Offcuts in a great article by our good friend Shelley Boettcher in the Calgary Herald.
Another pal from the Herald, John Gilchrist, also writes about us in his column. (scroll down)
It's not online, but City Palate were also very generous and wrote about Offcuts in their current issue. Here's a link to their digital issue, but it's also available for pick-up at many locations around Calgary.
Finally, Kent of Inglewood always gets a mention around this time of year, because those folks are Movember experts. But also, just because they are so dang charming.
Enroute Magazine has said Kent of Inglewood is one of the 15 best things about Calgary. (well, duh)
And Metro tapped them for some Movember advice.
That's all for now!
The Offcuts 2017 calendars are in stock! We're really excited about this. Heres a little background on the charity, the photographer, and all those wonderful Offcuts men.
Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids has one goal: no hungry kids in Calgary. The organization strives toward this goal each day by providing healthy lunches directly to school kids, and by empowering communities to create lasting social change. Through the work of community groups and a small army of volunteers, Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids provides more than 2,500 lunches each day for local kids who would otherwise go without.
Jeremy Fokkens is a classically trained dancer turned professional self-taught photographer. His most recent accomplishment is the publishing of his book The Human Connection, which highlights Jeremy’s eight-month trip through Nepal and Bangladesh, and tells countless captivating stories of everyday people. Fokkens’ newest project ‘Back To The Land’ has taken him across all of Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories, capturing some of the country’s most colourful small town characters.
Kevin Kent considers his chef years as the best education for being an entrepreneur. Being a chef takes long hours, involves hard work, both mentally and physically, and chefs must be able to put out fires, both literal and figurative, with extreme competence.
Kevin started Knifewear in 2007 after becoming infatuated with handmade Japanese kitchen knives, believing both his chef colleagues and home users would also fall in love. Over the next 9 years Knifewear grew to 5 shops across Canada (Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton). In 2013 he opened Kent of Inglewood, Canada’s Shave Shop, also in Calgary and now those shops have spread to Ottawa and Edmonton, with Vancouver coming soon. His newest shop, From the Wild, which is dedicated to wilderness living and cooking, is set to open in Edmonton October 2016.
Kevin sees no reason to slow down, he hopes to bring his unique vision to even more locations in the future. If you think you can keep up, you should follow Kevin on Twitter at @knifenerd and find out more about the stores
Jay del Corro’s first foray into the culinary world started with his hit YouTube cooking show, The Aimless Cook. Starting in 2009, his weekly recipes slowly gathered a following until 2011 when he was the only Canadian chosen for YouTube and Google’s Next Chef program. From there, The Aimless Cook has amassed 4 million views and over 40,000 subscribers worldwide.
Fast forward to 2012 when Jay finally quit his corporate job and decided to pursue a full-time focus on food by opening Eats of Asia. Starting in a small window at Millarville Farmers Market, his signature Asian street food started a loyal following which has grown and supported the family run business, following their journey from farmers markets, night markets, and pop ups to their current location at Calgary’s Crossroads Market. Inspired by childhood memories, travel, and some happy accidents, the food of Eats of Asia is a combination of traditional cooking contrasted by creations that simply satisfy a primal urge to eat like no one’s looking.
Eats of Asia is open every weekend and features a variety of Pan Asian rice bowls, steamed bao, hand-pulled noodles, and house made ramen which offers a new flavour each day.
Eric Nathan was mistakenly conceived on July 19th, 1973 and born into a family of French urbanites and rural Mennonites, exiting the womb the very same day as Tricia Helfer; he is quite likely also a Cylon and credits this for his love/hate relationship with technology.
Eric’s father soon after escaped lifelong servitude in the Canadian Armed Forces and moved the family to Calgary during the tail end of the oil boom but soon after experienced the joys and ramifications of the National Energy Program. Incidentally, the first joke that Eric can recall learning was the baited question for the facetious definition of PETRO Canada.
Eric nearly frostbit his feet after refusing to wear winter boots during a day spent watching ski jumping at the ’88 Olympics, rather opting for a pair of top-siders. Incidentally, he still refuses to refer to Paskapoo as COP and has developed a penchant for ignoring the Olympics when they take place.
Eric often told family and friends that he would never get married nor have children, both of which he has since done and thusly claims as being the greatest things to ever happen to him. Eric is now focusing on never becoming the Canadian Oyster Shucking Champion and can be found getting high on his own supply of bi-valves whilst secretly studying the effects of light, water and magnetism on enzymatic proton-tunneling at his warehouse.
Colin Leach is the co-founder of The Silk Road Spice Merchant. He has no culinary training. Before becoming interested in spices, he was a failed academic (American lit) and a passably successful marketing writer/strategist.
In 2008, he and his partner Kelci Hind began talking about their dream shop: a spice merchant that paid tribute to the colourful history and geography behind the little jars of barks, leaves and seeds that adorn kitchens everywhere. From that inspiration was born The Silk Road Spice Merchant, a single destination for every sort of culinary spice (and spice blend) one could reasonably expect to find in Canada. Focussing on quality, selection, presentation and atmosphere, The Silk Road now has stores in Calgary and Edmonton and is in its 8th year of supplying customers across Canada, from home cooks to professional chefs.
Apart from spices, Colin’s obsession with flavours also extends to ice cream, tea, candy and alcoholic beverages of every kind (but mostly whiskey and cocktails. Some beer. Not so much wine.).
Robert was born and raised in Edmonton Alberta. After graduating high-school and feeling the city wasn’t quite the right fit for him, he sought his future in Calgary. His first year there he worked many random jobs, every-thing from airline ground crew to building office furniture, but Robert still hadn’t found something that struck the right chord.
After responding to an ad in the Herald for a dishwasher position at Teatro restaurant, Robert met the well respected and admired chef Michael Allemeier. After almost a year washing dishes for Michael, Robert was asked if he would like to join the brigade on the line and start to learn how to cook professionally. This ignited Roberts passion for discovery, learning and accomplishment. His infatuation with the culinary world continued to grow and expand with knowledge he gained from many great chefs he worked under. By the age of 25 Robert was made an executive chef.
Robert is now the brand executive chef for Concorde Entertainment Group’s Double Zero Pizza. He also is the host of the original cooking series on Gusto TV, A is For Apple, the first season is currently airing, and the second season is now in production.
Way back in 1985 J. Webb Wine Merchant was started as a foray into private wine sales. It was an “experiment gone right” and helped set the stage for private booze sales throughout Alberta. Kevin got his start here in 1997, taking the role as head wine forager, a job that was too good to pass up. Like a lot of wine guys, Kevin started out serving tables and eventually taking over the wine program at the legendary 4th St Rose. From there, he moved to the Napa Valley where he learned to stain his hands red and finally made the move from enthusiastic amateur to professional drinker.
Originally he planned on staying in Napa and continuing to make wine, but the lure of running Calgary’s original wine boutique was too strong.
Since taking the reins at J. Webb, Kevin’s spit wine in every corner of the world, ever looking to expand his family of wine producers. His mission remains the same; seek out the small, the family run, the sustainable, the creative and the authentic. Just not the boring or predictable. For him, wine is important - too important to be left to big business or the corporate world.
He believes everybody deserves great wine, and finding it and bringing it to J. Webb is what gets him out of bedin the morning.
Today J. Webb has three stores including the building featured in this picture at the Calgary Farmer’s Market. You can usually find Kevin at one of these spots, tasting wine and sharing stories with anyone fool enough to listen.
Chef McGreevy vividly recalls harvesting vegetables from his family garden at a very young age, wiping off the dirt and eating them in place; his love of food and passion for local products stems from these very memories. It wasn’t until he decided to turn his love of food into a career that he flourished in an academic setting. He graduated from SAIT Professional Cooking Program and then started to travel abroad to gain some necessary experience in the ‘real world’. The next couple of years were spent in Ireland, France and Italy where he worked at Michelin starred restaurants, bakeries, cafes and hotels.
In the following years, Paul took on several other Executive Chef positions in fine dining settings before challenging himself with the Corporate Chef position with CRAFT Beer Market. After opening 3 locations and establishing the food program at CRAFT, Paul felt it was to move onto his next challenge. Paul is currently working to build a new restaurant in Calgary which will be opening in early 2017.
He is dedicated to supporting sustainable seafood, supporting local farmers and suppliers, educating both aspiring chefs and food-lovers alike – as well as sharing his extensive food knowledge and love of the industry with anyone keen to learn. He continually works with suppliers to ensure both side’s needs are being fulfilled and continually create initiatives within his restaurants to ensure that happens.
John Wildenborg started at Master Meats in1990 and quickly worked his way to the top. It didn’t hurt that he married the boss’s daughter in 1991. Master Meats which was founded in 1976, was mostly a wholesale supplier of meat to some of the finest dining establishments in Calgary. In 1999 John purchased the business from his father-in-law and over the years the vision of Master Meats slowly changed to make what was usually only available to high end restaurants available to the general public. Master Meats is a cut to order butcher shop that sells only the finest AAA Alberta Beef that is aged to perfection, along with succulent pork, farm raised chicken, and exotic meats. After 40 years in the same location, Master Meats relocated to a brand new facility in 2016, at 4127 6th Str. NE to handle the increased demand for their products. John, along with Marie, Mario, Daniel, Justin, Robin, and Cole, take pride in what they do. At Master Meats, they like to consider themselves artisans not just butchers.
Chef Michael Allemeier has traveled the world and Canada learning his craft. Prior to joining SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) as a Culinary Instructor, Chef Allemeier ran some of Western Canada’s most recognised kitchens. While in Vancouver BC, Chef Allemeier was Executive Chef at Bishops Restaurant, then Teatro Restaurant in Calgary, AB. Allemeier’s passion for food and wine pairing was realised with the call to lead the stoves at Mission Hill Family Estate in the Okanagan Valley, BC.
During his career, Chef Allemeier has received many awards and accolades the most notable occurring while he was Executive Winery Chef at Mission Hill Family Estate, when Travel and Leisure Magazine awarded him the honour of leading one of the “Top Five Winery Restaurants in the World”.
Currently Chef Allemeier is a CMC Candidate and is working on achieving this designation. The CMC (Certified Master Chef) is the toughest, rarest and highest culinary designation in Canada and is internationally recognised in the industry as a Master of the Craft.
Tony Marshall is both a serial entrepreneur and a cereal entrepreneur.
He has a varied and successful business background spanning more than five decades – most recently, as the president and co-founder, with his wife Penny, of Highwood Crossing Foods. Tony and Penny also own and operate Highwood Crossing Farm – a certified organic heritage farm that has been stewarded by his family for over 120 years.
Tony is a strong community supporter and volunteer having served nationally on the board of directors for The Canadian Organic Growers Association and is a past member of the Canadian Expert Committee on Organic Agriculture. He is also an active member and past president of the Rotary Club of High River. He is the recipient of a Growing Forward – Innovation in Agriculture Award and was a nominee for the Ernst & Young 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year. Tony and Penny were recently named Canadian Food Heroes by Slow Food Canada.
Kitchen duties began with washing dishes and eventually cooking at a seafood restaurant in Victoria BC in 1998. After working my way around the restaurants of Vancouver Island for 10 years, I made the move to Vancouver to see some professional kitchens. In 2010 I arrived in Calgary to cook at “Rush”.
It was after a good 3 years at Rush I had the opportunity to open the restaurant Market, on the hip and trendy Calgary strip of 17th Avenue. That is where I was able to cook the food that I really wanted too make for our guests. I was fortunate to be able to work with a team that I had assembled over the last couple of years at the aforementioned restaurant. It was at Market where I was able to travel around the world to cook at exclusive events. I battled my way into the Culinary Championships of Canada by winning the Calgary division in 2014. Although I didn’t end up on the podium for the finals in Kelowna, I came away with another great experience.
My roots are on the East Coast of Canada in Cape Breton. I love watching people’s eyes light up at my uniqueness in growing up on one of the world’s best islands. New Waterford is my hometown, a coal min-ing community, which is rich in heritage, warmness and old fashioned family values. My strong roots and family have led me to the many successes that I have had and it is in my culinary artistry that I put value, love, and passion. I grew up in a loving family with a mom, dad, and sister that all shared my strong work ethic.
My journey through life has influenced the flavours that I add to my recipes. Upon graduation from high school, I was accepted into the Culinary Arts Program at Holland College on Prince Edward Island. It was at Holland that my gifted teachers molded this interest into a passion and cultivated my eagerness to learn everything there was about the world of food. I remember seeing a video on Chef Ferran Adria where he was doing things with food that I would have never believed was possible, through his molecular cooking style. It is through his silent mentoring that I always try to integrate molecular/ avant garde cooking in my menus. Holland College allowed me to spread my wings from an island boy to the Rocky Mountains in beautiful Banff where I cooked at Buffalo Mountain Lodge from 2001- 2002. I also worked at the prestigious Belvedere in beautiful downtown Calgary, where I added to my love of the fine dining world.
Bored with the corporate world Andy was looking for a new challenge. While sitting in a coffee shop drinking hot chocolate and contemplating his next steps in life, Andy decided to work on the concept of a European style café that not only offered coffee but alcohol too. Andy had never even tasted a cup of coffee before he came up with the idea of Gravity but now with two young kids and a thriving community based business, he drinks plenty!
If you want to talk to Andy about grind settings, extraction rates or the tasting notes of coffee then you will probably receive a blank stare. Want to talk to him about your family, job or life in general? If so, you won’t be able to get rid of him.
IT'S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN!
For those of you that may not know what our Garage Sales are all about, here's the deal. We go to Japan and visit knifemakers. We visit ones we normally carry, and buy up stock we don't normally bring in, and we visit knifemakers we DON'T normally carry and ask them what they have that is impressive. THEN, we bring it all back to you, our favourite customer to gawk and drool over. (And for us to gawk and drool over also, tbh.)
This Garage Sale is looking especially great, with hand forged Damascus kitchen knives, higo knives and axes, all from one of the best blacksmiths in the world, Kageura-san. This blacksmith is the real deal. He is one of the best we've worked with, so we are especially excited to have these hard to find items in the shop. He doesn't have an apprentice or employee, so when he retires, his skills will go with him. He's getting up there now and more interested in fishing. The time to get his knives is now.
We also have some hand made knives from Tojiro, made by both Tomo-san, the master blacksmith, as well as by Sayaka-san who, by all reports is the only female blacksmith apprentice in Japan. Very, very cool. Speaking of Tojiro, we'll also be running a sale on their rugged and sexy Flash line.
Other fun items: sake sets, Takamura VG10 knives, knives by the son of legendary blacksmith Keijiro Doi, and of course the usual assortment or rando stuff we found in our travels.
This is also the second online Garage Sale! We have a few knives on our website already, but you'll have to wait until November 7th to purchase. You'll want to check that page every couple days, we'll be adding stock to it as it arrives.
Watch our Instagram and Twitter accounts for #knifewearGS
posts to see what else we have in store!
In-store the sale starts when we open at 10:00 a.m. November 7 at all locations except Calgary Farmer's Market. If you are not in a city that has one of our stores, (Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver) then you can shop online. The online sale goes live at 10:00 a.m. Calgary (MDT) time. Use this handy tool to find out when that is in your timezone. http://www.
Keeping the momentum up after last year’s wildly successful first calendar, Offcuts 2017, Calgary’s finest stripped-down charity calendar, is officially off the presses and ready for purchase.Once again the irreverent 12-month calendar is a celebration of Calgary’s restaurant and food scene, and also twelve of the fellas that infuse that scene with their winning personalities. They bravely let the clothes fall to show that they are more than just pretty faces. They also have big hearts that aren’t too proud to bare it all for a good cause.
Pick up a calendar, meet the Offcuts models,
and partake in some food and beverage!
J. Webb Wine Merchant Ltd., 520 77 Avenue SE
(near the Calgary Farmer’s Market),
November 18, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The Offcuts 2017 calendars are in stock! We're really excited about this. We even put out a fancy press release.
Keeping the momentum up after last year’s wildly successful first calendar, Offcuts 2017, Calgary’s finest stripped-down charity calendar, is officially off the presses and ready for purchase.
Once again the irreverant 12-month calendar is a celebration of Calgary’s restaurant and food scene, and also twelve of the fellas that infuse that scene with their winning personalities. They bravely let the clothes fall to show that they are more than just pretty faces. They also have big hearts that aren’t too proud to bare it all for a good cause.
Last year, taking inspiration from a shirtless chef calendar created in Edmonton, Knifewear and Kent of Inglewood owner Kevin Kent decided it was high time the ‘handsome’ men at the helm of Calgary’s restaurant industry should share a similar shirtless fate.
“I love that we have been able to capture an audience for this calendar and this cause,” said Kent, who was Mr. August last year, but has given up the modeling career this year. “The entire production of the calendar is donated, so we are in turn able to donate 100% of calendar sale proceeds to Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids. Last year that totalled $33,000!”
Once again production costs have been provided by Knifewear. Also, photographer Jeremy Fokkens donated his time and expertise to shoot all 12 months of Offcuts in unique locales around town, from the show room of J. Webb Wine Merchant to the Crossroads Farmer’s Market to a wheat field at an undisclosed location. The Offcuts models are hopeful that Calgarians will once again gift to their friends and family the Offcuts 2017 calendar this holiday season, (or possibly adorn their own office wall with it, if deemed work-apropos) knowing their $20 purchase will feed 20 hungry local school kids a healthy lunch.
“We are experiencing an enormous increase in the number of kids in need of a healthy lunch across our city,” said Tanya Koshowski, executive director of Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids. “The awareness and support from this incredible group of chefs and food experts will ensure that our community will continue to have the resources needed to feed and care for every child who is hungry at school.”
The coveted calendar is already available for purchase at Knifewear and Kent of Inglewood, as well as all of the fine restaurants and retailers the 12 Offcuts represent: Highwood Crossing Foods & Farm, Master Meats, Eats of Asia, J. Webb Wine Merchant, Cafe Gravity, Double Zero Pizza, Belvedere, The Silk Road Spice Merchant.
Join Offcuts for our launch party November 18th. Meet the Offcuts models (and partake in some barbeque provided by “Mr. August” Michael Allemeier): J. Webb Wine Merchant Ltd., 520 77 Avenue SE (near the Calgary Farmer’s Market), November 18, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
During our recent visit to Japan, the Kochi Shimbun wrote about us popping in on one of our favourite blacksmiths, Kageura-san, maker of the glorious Masakage Kujira line. Read the story (in Japanese) here or, please enjoy Google Translate's wonderful mangling of the article below...
ABOVE: Shadow Uraken's shaking hands with a smile (far left) and Kevin Kent's = Yusuhara, Kochi Prefecture Takaoka-gun Yusuhara
Cutlery of traditional continue to manufacture in the technique of "Tosa hitting cutlery" Kochi Prefecture Takaoka-gun Yusuhara shadow Uraken's Yusuhara (74), is being expanded sales channels in Canada.The October 7, visited the business have in Canada is a trading destination workshop, visit the forging process and a wide variety of cutlery. Voice of admiration as "Beautiful!" Is up, it was also established a new opportunity.
Mr. Kageura a craftsman history about 60 years, in 2002 has been certified to "Tosa of Takumi (Takumi)". Iron and steel suit seared in many layers, put a distinctive pattern of wavy to blade a specialist in "Damascus kitchen knife", there are a lot of fans at home and abroad, Kochi Prefecture. Iron and steel, that are reusing the waste of car and boat.
Wavy pattern floats "Damascus kitchen knife"
About six years ago, we made in Japan overseas export maker of business Shibata Takayuki's knife (37) = Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture = and, Kevin Kent, who runs a five or cutlery dealer in Canada (46), KageUra in magazines know's knife, trading began. Now it has shipped a kitchen knife of about 200 a year in Canada.
Not only cook in the local, also to the general public "good sharpness, it looks beautiful," said the popular, Shibata-san is a "sell more if they have the number of products", making everything from the stage of "material is amazing technology. talking with such traditional Japanese techniques I have been very evaluation "in foreign countries.
This time, two Kevin and his colleagues have, came to Japan as part of the interview to make a photo book on the theme of Japanese cutlery craftsmen.Overlaid the heated iron and steel, housed in eagerly camera and work to train by striking out with a hammer, was watched in the finished product on store shelves.
Kevin's the state in which inspiring "but KageUra's blade saw for the first time how the especially popular. Make, great in a very high technology. Exciting." 3 people with admiration as "perfect", "Amazing", had purchased the new products such as kitchen knife and an ax.
KageUra san "of getting to know the real Tosa hitting cutlery to people overseas doing this is that the EI. However, the successor is also I'll feel Oranmon baked responsibility" was showing a complex expression with.
When buying a knife as a gift you want it to be the coolest present ever. When the recipient opens the box you want them to squeal with delight. The last thing you want is for them to say "Oh, a knife. That's nice thank you." You want them to shout "Holy Bananas! that is the coolest thing I've ever seen!" as they do a victory lap around the room with the knife help high above their head. In a safe manner of course.
This is how to get the right response:
1. You need a knife that has the look. There are tons of average looking knives in the world, but ignore those. For gifts you need something sexy. One that is always a winner, with a beautiful look is the Konosuke Sakura Western Handle Nakiri. (pictured above)
A knife can also be gasp-worthy because of a great shape, like this Kotetsu Bunka.
2. You always want to give a gift thats easy to care for. No bunnies or puppies. I say look for a stainless steel knife because they will not rust. All of the examples in this post fit the bill, but also one of our most popular stainless steel knives is the Haruyuki Kasumi Uchi.
3. Get something they can use every day. If it is their first Japanese knife I'd recommend a multi-purpose knife like a 210mm gyuto. Here are some of our favourites. If it is not their first, a supporting knife like a petty or nakiri is a great option. The Masashi Damascus Nakiri, and the Kurosaki Sasame Petty 120mm are great examples.
Every knife set starts with a chef's knife (multi purpose knife), also sometimes called a French knife or gyuto. People often ask for a santoku, as it’s a name they’ve heard before but I find them a bit small for use as a multipurpose knife as they generally come in a 165mm (6inch) size only. They are far too small for cabbage or watermelons, and those large onions from the farmer’s market for example. I think a 210mm gyuto is the best knife for home sized jobs. If you are a chef I’d suggest a 240mm or 270mm but that’s a different story, as chefs demand more and a larger knife makes turning 100kg of potatoes into hash browns a much easier task.
Kato-san who makes this knife is one of my fave blacksmiths because of his skill, and because he is a cool guy. He’s been a blacksmith for over 50 years and figured something out by now. This line of knives gives incredible performance and doesn't break the bank. Chefs all over the world swear by this knife.
I love mirrored knives. I do. They look great if you're gonna be on TV and great when cooking for friends. Masashi-san makes knives that slice through food like magic but are also a more rugged than one would think. This knife is super fun to use when cooking by yourself, but even more fun when someone is watching you cook. We all get dressed to impress on special occasions, why not have a knife for those occasions as well?
This is a handmade knife with all of the romance that brings but has a very gentle price tag. I think it's a great knife for home chefs as it's easy to keep sharp and easy to care for. It, like the Masashi blade above is a bit heavier and therefore slightly more rugged than some of our other knives.
Want a great looking knife that is easy to take care of and doesn’t break the bank? This is for you. This knife is the easiest to sharpen of the bunch (but sadly will also need to be sharpened more often) and looks awesome. I love how these knives feel and I think they are great for home and especially for a gift.
Except republished from the Calgary Herald:
Crocodile Dundee would approve of Kevin Kent.
Not that large Bowie knives — like the one Dundee flashed in front of a mugger in the 1986 movie, exclaiming ‘that’s a knife’ — are a staple of Kent’s Knifewear store in Calgary.
But Kent knows knives — especially large, sharp ones — and that knowledge is paying dividends as his company opened a fifth store last month in downtown Vancouver.
Kent, who trained as a chef, has a fondness for imported Japanese knives, which are a popular item at his flagship store in Inglewood.
“The reason I love the Japanese knives is that they use harder steel and that means they can be made to last longer and they can be made sharper, which are the two things everyone wants in a knife,” he said.
Kris Armitage, the Manager of our Edmonton shop, got to tag-along with Kevin on a pre-Garage Sale trip to Japan. You can catch part 1 here and part 2 here. And now here's the conclusion to Kris’s adventure.
After an unforeseen stop-over in Kanazawa, we made our way to Tsubame Sanjo. It seems that they make everything in Niigata prefecture, factories making all sorts of stuff are everywhere you look. We visited all kinds including Iwasaki-san's cramped and cluttered shop to the multi-building machine that is Tojiro.
The thing that sticks with me most about this part of the trip though is how much human labour goes into what we call “factory knives”. Just because a knife is stamped, not hand-forged, doesn't mean that there isn't an actual person straightening the blade, grinding the bevel, polishing the edge, turning the handle or using some kind of electro-chemical magic to emboss a logo on the steel. Many hands touch a "factory knife” and we should be careful not to under-appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making each one.
Also worth noting is that Tojiro is the only place in our travels that we saw a woman doing blacksmithing work. When Sayaka-san started work at Tojiro she was uninterested in doing the jobs that women traditionally did in the factory, (handle making, polishing, etc.) she was more interested in learning to forge. She's only been working at it a short time, but even as an apprentice she's making waves.
Masashi-san is a badass, the lone wolf of blacksmithing. He has a little workshop with one employee... him. We sat around his desk, ate snacks and drank tea; it was like a cooler version of my grandfather’s garage. This dude has some serious swagger, he’s a perfectionist and a craftsman at heart but is well aware that attitude can sell knives. Lighting a cigarette with a glowing piece of steel or wearing flip-flops at the forge are just a couple of ways to show that you mean business.
Visiting the Hinouras was more than a little intimidating. The tiny office was adorned with many awards and had some very impressive knives displayed in it, they do much more than the beautiful River Jump knives. The younger Hinoura-san makes many types of hatchets and tools. The thing that impressed me the most was their sharpening room, there was enough stones that each of the Three Little Pigs could build a house and a custom sharpening sink with a cushioned bench. This room was clearly well used, some of the knives in their shop are the sharpest things I have ever touched.
Our last day was spent learning about Sake and making Miso in Suwa, Nagano prefecture. It was great to see how both products were made and the passion of the people behind them. It was also nice to have a bit of a relaxing last day in Japan. The overall experience left me with an even greater appreciation of the work that goes into the products we carry. Going to Japan and getting to witness the things we love being made reinforces why we do things differently. The pride that was shown by all of the blacksmiths I met was intense. Visiting Japan was an eye opening and enlightening experience. Easily the best work experience I have ever had.
Kris Armitage, the Manager of our Edmonton shop, got to tag-along with Kevin on a pre-Garage Sale trip to Japan. The fellas visited several of our favourite blacksmiths, ate a tonne of food, drank all of the sake in several cities and sang some karaoke with Takamura-san. If you missed part 1 of his story, you can catch it here.
We had a brief stop over in Kyoto and did a bit of the tourist thing. Visited Kiyomizu-dera temple, saw many lovely kimono (and some that were a little tacky), drank the best coffee in Japan at % Arabica, and enjoyed the nightlife of that wonderful city. We wandered up and down the buzzing streets enjoying random grilled animal parts on sticks, amazing and beautiful sashimi and maybe a little bit of Nihonshu (sake).
We had met up with the impeccably dressed Shibata-san on the way to Kyoto and he joined us for the next day’s trek to Takefu, home of Masakage Knives. We were picked up at the Takefu train station by Ikeda-san, who from what I can tell is the hardest working man in Fukui. He then brought us for the largest lunch I had in Japan; 3 huge breaded pork cutlets and a breaded soft boiled egg over rice. I barely managed to finish, while Ikeda finished his and the other gaijin's leftovers and still ordered more rice; the man is a machine. We then headed to Knife Village to get to work. After some quick intros with the blacksmiths, I was taken to the “Learning Shop” with Wada and Ikeda to start my brief immersion into the world of blacksmithing.
Wada was my sensei in Takefu. He was unnecessarily shy about his English as it is much better than my non-existent Japanese. Over the course of the afternoon and the next morning, I completed my first and only knife from start to finish. I forged, I annealed and I straightened. I did all of the grinding on the huge water wheel. I attached the handle, sharpened the edge and even engraved initials into the blade by hand. It was amazing.
The appreciation that had grown while working with the Moritakas, grew even more while working at Takefu. I can fully understand why these guys apprentice for as long as they do. Making a knife is all about practice, practice and more practice. I used to be a chef and I can cook a steak and know when it is cooked perfectly just by looking at it. I have literally done it thousands of times. It took many over or under cooked pieces of meat to get to the point where I am perfect 99.8% of the time. We shouldn't take these knives for granted because it took many hours of back breaking, sweaty work to get to the point where those knives are as close to perfect as they are.
Knife Village is an impressive complex. So many amazing craftsman sharing the same space to create a wide array of sharp things. It is loud, hot, dirty and produces some of the most fantastic knives we have the pleasure of using.
Stay tuned for part 3 of Kris’s Japan adventures.