The year 2007. The apex of my obscene obsession with knives brought me to emptying my life's saving for a more than memorable trip to Japan.
I'd been cooking for the better part of a decade at this time but it wasn't until about 2004 when my obsession with knives started. I was cooking in Mexico, in a small beach town outside of Puerto Vallarta, making ceviche and, funnily, tons of miso soup. I sliced and chopped the Huachinango and Mahi everyday with my (what I thought was awesome) Global chefs knife. It wasn't.
Every couple days or so I'd head down to the only internet cafe in town, logged into the slowest internet connection in the Western hemisphere, and instead of emailing my friends and family I searched and googled Japanese knives. My obsession grew and grew and grew. There was no way for me to physically see these knives in the small beach town in Mexico, let alone in Canada or the U.S.. It was then that I decided that I would put a good chunk of my pay checks aside for an upcoming trip to Japan.
At this time my focus was definitely single bevel. I didn't know how to use one, I'd never held one, but I knew I had to have one. One of my favourite things in life to eat is raw fish, be it sashimi or the crudo/ceviche things I was making, and I knew I had to have a Deba and Yanagi. My research led me to a few brands that were on my list to check out when I finally made it to Japan. Sugimoto was one of those brands. Their knives spoke to me; they had clean lines, traditional shapes, and classic magnolia handles. As much as I will always appreciate a modern approach, there's something truly beautiful about tradition.
Fast forward to 2007 when I finally saved up enough, packed my bags, left my job and hopped on a flight to Narita. I planned on a ten day trip, nine of which involved finding knives. My first stop was the famous Tsujiki fish market in Tokyo. I made my way through what seemed like an endless maze of kitchen supply stores, knife vendors and fish mongers. The first thing I noticed was how clean it smelled. It smelled like the ocean. Here we are in the worlds largest fish market and not one unpleasant fishy odour, incredible. The thing I admire most about the Japanese is the thought, care and attention they put into everything they do. All the fish were iced or still living in clean, circulated water. It's this type of attention to detail that also speaks true of Japanese knives.
I took my time, savoured every step, every smell, every new corridor of the market. I ate ramen once, sushi twice, and grabbed a bottle of water as I made my way to the knife shops. First stop was Aritsugu. I spent the better part of an hour in this shop with two grumpy old men who got angry when they realized I couldn't speak Japanese. I made a mental list of the knives I liked, took a picture and headed toward Sugimoto. I was greeted by Nanako. She was incredibly courteous and helpful with her broken English. She showed me around the shop, pointed out knives I may like and sold me on this amazing family company. I bought a knife, said thank you and told her that I would see her one day soon.
I spent the next eight days zig-zagging Japan and made my way back to the market on my last day. I was in a rush so I ran in, slurped that awesome ramen again, bought a couple more knives and flew to the airport.
Two years later in 2009 while planning the opening of KNIFE, I shot Nanako an email. We exchanged a few broken-English emails and a couple months later I had my first shipment of knives ready to open the shop. The first shipment was small, couldn't have been more than a dozen knives, but they were the first dozen of KNIFE. I ordered the cheapest stuff they sold, the Super French stainless line and carbon nakiri. These knives weren't the best representation of Sugimoto but hey, it was a start for me and the shop. We don't sell those knives anymore but we still get them in for a sharpening once in a while and it always makes me smile. We have since moved on to some of my favourite lines of knives, the CM line. A no-nonsense, no fancy damascus/tsuchime knife designed for hours and hours in a kitchen.
Over all these years we've found that Sugimoto has a very loyal following with our customers. The ones who love it, love it. They hold up incredibly well with professional cooks that use and abuse their knives daily. The CM line has just the right amount of carbon for nice edge retention and the right amount of molybdenum for stain resistance. We've also found over time that they sharpen incredibly well.
Would love this bad boy in the shop - maybe one day.
Sugimoto was with us from day one and continues to be a staple in our shop. I went back to Japan last year and made visiting Nanako at Sugimoto a priority. Our businesses have grown together and we couldn't do what we do here without her and her families' dedication to tradition and quality.
Thanks for reading, EO