Sexy isn’t typically a word used to describe knives—unless you’re channelling a serial killer—but at the recently opened Knifewear at 4215 Main Street, the term is used liberally. And considering the Calgary-born shop’s expansive supply of hard-to-find, handmade-in-Japan blades—all razor-sharp edges, vivid Mother Earth–inspired etchings, and curvy wood handles, oh my!—it’s not hard to see why.
“When you buy a knife, it should be a great working knife but it should also look really good,” says Knifewear owner Kevin Kent during an interview with the Straight at his first Vancouver shop. “So when you think about it, you go, ‘I’m gonna go home and cook with it today’—something that inspires you.”
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Kent first got his hands on a Japanese kitchen knife over 15 years ago, when he was working as a chef in London, U.K. However, it wasn’t just the striking shape and ergonomic design that drew him to the tool: it turns out that the Japanese make a hell of a sharp blade, too.
“I learned that day that there are knives, and then there are knives,” he says.
Handcrafted by generations of expert Japanese blacksmiths—many of whose ancestors began applying their sword-making skills to cookery post–World War II—Japanese knives are essentially the Rolls-Royce of kitchen cutters.
Their superiority lies in their carbon-steel or stainless-steel blades, Kent explains, which are often forged from sturdier blocks of alloy than those employed in North American knife production.
The rigid steel allows the knives to be extremely sharp—so much so that chopping an unripe squash feels akin to slicing through a stick of room-temperature butter—and they stay that way for much longer, too. “Think about the demands of your knife for making sashimi: slicing thin slices of raw fish and making them look beautiful. You need a very sharp knife,” says Kent, “and this is what Japanese knives excel at—it’s this precision.”
Following a series of successful pop-up shops in East Vancouver, the self-described “knife nerd” hopes to continue spreading this gospel to B.C. Kent’s fifth Knifewear store carries more than 40 lines of knives that range dramatically in size and use.
From multipurpose Santoku blades to “supporting” cutters such as the Nakiri—a flat-bottomed knife that chops cleanly through produce of all types, thus preventing those annoying “accordion vegetables” from forming—the specialty retailer is full of culinary game-changing gadgets.
In addition to the knives, which run anywhere from $70 to an impressive $2,000, Knifewear also offers professional chefs, foodies, and home-cooks an assortment of quirky kitchen items, including streamlined coffee-makers, salad-bowl waxes, and mint-green mandolin slicers, plus a curated selection of culinary magazines and cookbooks.
Sharpening stones, portable paring knives, and heavy-duty cleavers imported from Albacete (“The Spanish make great cleavers,” Kent notes) are also on the menu.
“When you get the right tool for the right job, it’s so exciting,” he says, “because it takes the pain out of doing something.”