My Dad had a terrific t shirt when I was growing up. It read ‘He who has the most toys when he dies, wins’.
His collection of toys were most likely to involve wheels or the ability to float on water. They lived in the garage and were beautifully taken care of.
My toys belong somewhere a little different.
I’ve had to keep my impulse to collect kit under control while we’re in London. First it was the issue of the small kitchen. Now it’s just the question mark over where we’ll be year to year. But the time had come for one new one.
My old knife was part of the faithful ‘gang of five‘ pieces of kitchen equipment which came over from Sydney with us. It travelled with me most places.
Last year I wrote this about it.
My knife isn’t a fancy brand name, nor is it made by descendants of samurais. It’s just a big knife that balances well in my hand that I’ve grown quite fond of. The Hungry One also likes it because unlike the Global knives, it doesn’t have a deckled handle (less spots for prep-grime to get encrusted). What can I say? The man has high hygiene standards. It’s one of the reasons I love him.
Having a decent knife with you means I’m less likely to cut yourself chopping tomatoes for a caprese salad. This summer I’ll probably be using mine to make some versions of Waldorf salad- much like this.
But we grow up. We move on. I was getting frustrated with how often I had to sharpen it. It was feeling heavy in my hand. And I stupidly, stupidly bent the tip of it trying to cleave open the top of a tin of smoked paprika. Naughty Tori (nb, don’t be me. Don’t do that).
The question was asked on twitter; ‘Where in London should I go to buy a new knife?’. The answer,
was The Japanese Knife Company.
And so, on a blustery cold Saturday, off we went to Marylebone. Call it an early birthday present. Call it another way of frittering away your book advance. Call it retail therapy. Whatever it was, it was great fun.
The Japanese Knife Company was the first Hamonoya in Europe. A hamonoya is a traditional Japanese knife shop; a place where you can be guided to finding a knife that best suits you- and better than anything; here you can try before you buy.
It’s a serene space, with more than 250 knives to look at. It’s hard to know where to start.
Luckily the staff are on hand to help.What you plan on doing with your knife, preferences for weight, appearance and handle length are all taken into account (as are budget parameters. Some of the top of the line folded steel models there can nudge upwards of £1600).
My brief: an all purpose ‘Chef’s knife, mainly for vegetables, meat and fish’. I have a smaller carving knife and don’t do that much butchery at home. Complicating factor; I have small hands. Small like a child. Ridiculous.
Four or five potential knives are sourced for me. I get to hold them (no keeping things locked away in cases or plastic casings here, like at so many department stores). And then I get to play. A cutting board and some cheap, pale supermarket tomatoes are pulled out.
The best way to test the acuity of a knife is on something as flaccid as a tomato. Just as there’s nothing more frustrating than squashing and hacking at one with a blunt knife (the curse of all holidays at rental properties), there are few things more satisfying than slivering through one with something of razor precision. I can understand why surgeons get a rush out of using blades like this.
There are some free hints and tips that are passed on in the process of a purchase. For one, turns out I’ve been cutting tomatoes wrong. While hardier vegetables should be cut with a forward rocking motion, I’m soon schooled to draw the knife towards my chest when slicing soft produce like tomatoes. It feels odd, a bit like trying to skip in reverse.
The next lesson is that for knives with soft and hard layers, the best way to keep them in tip top shape is not to sharpen them on a wet stone every day, but to brush them up against newspaper.
The key seems to be to place the blade flush against the page, then raise it to a 10 degree angle to the print. From there the technique is to and sweep it toward you in sharp, determine determined strokes. Ten times one way, then ten times in reverse.
And lastly; beyond the basics of never putting your good knife in the dishwasher, chopping on wooden boards and being very careful when you put it away, I should never use the sharp edge of your knife to sweep or push food across a chopping board- instead I need to learn to swivel the handle and use the safe, dull side (an oval handle comes in handy when perfecting that move ).
So; in the end, what did I choose?
I’d like to introduce you to my new knife.
KC022 Hammer Santoku (180mm).
Santoku means 3 benefits; slicing, dicing and mincing. This is undoubtedly the ideal shape for home cooks searching for a well balanced and versatile blade. The Hammer Santoku weighs a mere 128 grams, this makes it the lightest hand made Santoku we have ever encountered. The wonderfully comfortable D shape handle allows the awesomely keen edge of this 45 layer blade to meet most domestic culinary challenges with ease. Slicing, dicing and mincing with this knife is a Zen like experience. Totally hand made in Seki by a group of highly skilled 3rd generation nokaji – the Hammer Collection of hand hammered Damascus blades glide through everything. Remember to wet blade before cutting very dense ingredients like swede or butternut squash. This enables the edge to slide through very dense substances without resorting to dangerous application of downward pressure on spine.
It’s not too long, light as anything and with a beautiful lightly textured blade, helping food drop off once chopped. It’s a beautiful. And it’s mine (it even says so on the blade. Engraving comes as part of the purchase and is done in about five minutes).
Now that I’m home chopping with it is a whole new ball game. You know when you’re accidentally knicking spots in your nail polish mid cut that you better scrub up on your technique. Good habits are rewarded with this toy and bad habits get perilous.
Doing prep with it feels a little like a new driver who decided to take a Porsche out for a spin. After a haunting dream about an accident with it last night, I’m taking it very carefully. Slowly slowly. And then; game on.
In case you haven’t guessed, I like my new toy. Lots.
All that’s left is to give it a name (all well loved toys need a name). Suggestions gratefully received.
Nb, the Japanese Knife Company also run private and small group knife skills tutorials. Both a trip there and a lesson would be a terrific major present for someone who loves to cook, or just needs a new toy in their life.
Japanese Knife Company
47 Blanford Street, London
Nearest Tube Stations are Baker Street and Bond Street.
T: 020 748 748 68
Open: Monday to Saturday: 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM
Sunday: 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM