The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives offers deep cut on little-known culture 

Book reviews for the reader on your holiday list

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - good reads The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives by Kevin Kent.
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  • good reads The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives by Kevin Kent.

"You're allowed to be attracted to beautiful shit." - Kevin Kent

I thought I was a knifenerd. The first thing I bought with my first real paycheque was a set of Henckels Four Star knives—chef, boning, carving and paring.

My wife threatened to divorce me. I think she wanted furniture. When we eventually divorced, I got the knives. Not much else.

By then I'd added to the collection. It became a "collection" when the number of knives became larger than the discrete uses for each knife.

But I stand corrected. Kevin Kent is a knifenerd. A former chef, Kevin is such a knifenerd he opened the first of his five Knifewear shops in Calgary in 2009. He sold Japanese kitchen knives. Exclusively. Oh, and an axe or two. Maybe a sword for good measure.

Why Japanese knives? He describes meeting his first Japanese knife in 1999. He thought he knew sharp knives, thought he had good knives, thought he kept them razor sharp. The meeting sideswiped him with the realization that none of those things were true.

Getting hooked on Japanese knives, he started selling them the way low-level pot dealers sell weed, just enough to feed his own habit. Now he travels to Japan several times a year to visit his extensive network of skilled blacksmiths, many of whom are making knives the way their ancestors made samurai swords generations ago—quite a few of whom are new to the business, a relative term for sure. All of whom are artists seeking perfection in a world and a culture where perfection is something just a little—or a lot—better than the best knife they've ever made.

Kevin introduces the reader to these skilled craftsmen and lone craftswoman: the blacksmiths, the sharpeners, the polishers, the handlers, the ones who do it all. He dives deeply into their culture, valuing their patience, their skill, their knowledge and their willingness to share it all with him. For in him they recognize not just a valuable North American outlet for their artistry, but a kindred spirit.

For 310 pages, beautifully illustrated with Visti Kjar's photographs, he immerses you into all things Japanese knife—how they're made and the spirit, the mojo of those who make them. He explains the differences between familiar, Western-style double bevelled knives and more traditional single bevel knives. He dives down the rabbit hole of the metallurgical differences and qualities of steel and why you might favour one over another.

Important to the aspiring Japanese knifenerd he tutors the reader on how to begin what can easily become an obsession, how to live with and care for an everyday item of high-function art, and how to keep razor-sharp knives razor sharp. Mostly though, this Whole Earth ode to Japanese knives is a primer on the value of an ancient art in a world largely dominated by soulless, artless commodities.

Perhaps most important of all, he leaves you with hope you can explain to your spouse why a gyuto—chef's knife—made by Katsushige Anryu is both a necessity and a bargain... at $600.

The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives is available at Knifewear stores or online at knifewear.com/products/the-knifenerd-guide-to-japanese-knives.

Pique is running a series of book reviews leading up to the holidays. To see them all visit piquenewsmagazine.com.

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