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29 March 2007

Artisan knives

With only a cursory glance around a super or farmers market, one is bombarded with products claiming to be artisanal. I hate the word artisanal. I imagine it is meant to give the impression of rustic charm, of a ruddy faced, buxom wench, sieving her jam whilst her put-upon husband is down the mine. Whereas, if I see a product billed as artisanal, I think of a lazy producer or marketer who can't think of a decent way to label their product and convey the blood and tears that might (or might not) have been put into making it.

According to The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, an artisan is "a skilled worker who makes things by hand." An example of such an individual would be the genius that made my Artisan 180mm Multi-Purpose Cook's Knife. This knife is a thing of beauty and the one thing I would rescue in a fire - apart from Silverbrowess - if the place was burning down. Then again, it is made of such sturdy stuff, it might make it through the fire without my heroics. In fact, it is made of fully forged, folded high speed steel and is clad in soft stainless steel. It should go without saying it is handmade. That my friends, is the perfect example of artisanal.

I bought the knife a couple of weeks ago from a bizarrely dedicated and located shop, the Japanese Knife Company. Squashed between several hire car companies and a car-wash on the borders of a posh bit of London, the JKC sells only Japanese knives to the professional and amateur. They are obsessive in getting the right knife for you - which is important because these things are not cheap - and ensure that your cutting habits will change forever. For me, that meant buying a traditional Western design, rather than the more trendy santoku. Jayesh the owner, discussed with me at length what I cook, I gave him a demo of how I cut and he chose a selection of knives for me, the Artisan was the clear winner.

Ownership of this knife has not been without its problems, most notably, I discovered three blooming great chips in the blade. I feared this was a disaster but JKC fixed it, a process which took about two weeks longer than I had been led to expect. I'm not sure how the chips occurred, but breathed a sigh of relief that I was able to pick it up freshly sharpened today.

One of the best, but most immature aspects of my enjoyment, is that the blade is so finely cast, I can sharpen it on a few sheets of newspaper.


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