5 Dec 2012
Fukui region – 170mm Bunka – blade by Masakage with Rosewood handle
A hand-crafted Japanese knife is a high performance, seriously styled blade with sex appeal. As you look at the collection on display at CHEF'S ARMOURY, one question will be running through your mind – do I deserve it?
"There's been a procession of chefs through the store since we opened four weeks ago," says co-owner of CHEF'S ARMOURY and knife craftsman, Leigh Hudson. "A chef may have anywhere between five and twenty knives… Japanese knives are their first choice," he says. Just don't mention it to ze Germans, who according to Leigh, are runners-up as quality knife makers.
CHEF'S ARMOURY's modern showroom is in Church Street, Richmond close to the vibrant Swan Street hub.
It's well laid out and big enough to cater for a variety of product ranges: Japanese knives, Japanese groceries, cast iron cookware, kitchen utensils, Japanese charcoal-fired barbecues and books. There is also an area set aside for classes (knife skills, knife care and Japanese cooking), and a section of the store is dedicated to knife sharpening where you can watch Leigh apply his craft. Leigh loves knives and is happy to give advice or sharpen your knife, whether its Japanese or not.
While he began his career as a chef, his hobby was hand-crafted Japanese knives. It was hard to get your hands on one, so Leigh and his wife, Stephanie, set up a website to sell authentic Japanese knives online. While staying in Japan, Leigh trained for six years in the art of knife sharpening and polishing. Eventually, the strong demand for Japanese knives led to the opening of a Sydney store.
Fast forward to 2012, at a time when many business are cutting back, and Leigh and Stephanie decide to establish a Melbourne outlet, which opened in October, to cater to a growing following.
Leigh and Stephanie may seem altogether too friendly to be aficionados of culinary weaponry, yet there's a flair in the way the couple run CHEF'S ARMOURY as attendees at a recent promotional event can testify. After being hustled into two groups for a cooking competition, everyone got a chance to handle the knives and make sashimi salads. It turned out to be a cooking class that had everything: knife-handling tips (octopus needs to be cut in a sawing motion so it holds the soy), great food, laughter and even – 'Ouch' – blood. One team member got a nick that required a stitch, an unfortunate reminder of just how sharp Japanese knives can be.
Japanese dishes, created with delicacy and precision, are satisfying to number of our senses. It's only fitting that a finely engineered knife, capable of the finest slicing is needed, so it comes as no surprise that Japan has a long tradition of knife-making alongside samurai sword crafting.
Japanese knives can be mass produced. However, the handcrafting of a Japanese knife is more intricate; a knife requires the combined effort of three artisans. A blacksmith will forge a blade that will then be passed onto a polisher or Togishi who refines the shape into a work of art. Finally, a handle-maker creates a suitable handle from a traditional wood – by eye.
The certification of artisan activities required by law has meant that Japanese crafts are often identified by region, and Japanese knife-making is no different. CHEF'S ARMOURY carries three ranges: knives from Seki, which are a mass produced, double bevelled type ; knives from Fukui that are hammer forged, double bevelled and sought by Western chefs; and knives from the Sakai which have a single bevel and used predominantly in the preparation of Japanese cuisine.
A Japanese knife owes much to the hardness of steel used and is superior for three reasons: its hard blade ensures it remains sharper for longer, its blade has an acute angle making it sharper and it is light providing a more balanced knife. However, you could be forgiven for buying one because it looks so stylish – an object of pleasure – and makes you feel like the real deal in the kitchen.
CHEF'S ARMOURY can even custom make you one: a bespoke hand-crafted Japanese knife. What a temptation.
Leigh and Stephanie have opened a store with a bright future, and not only with professional chefs. Anyone serious about cooking may be searching for a superior knife, or looking for kitchenware unavailable elsewhere. The idea of grilling yakitori over a smouldering flame is mouth-watering and the small Japanese barbecues have been selling as fast as Leigh and Stephanie can order them.
CHEF'S ARMOURY has brought something new and prestigious to Melbourne for lovers of culinary perfection, or Japanese culture. And it's an offering guaranteed to boost your kitchen mojo.
Story: Peter Dewar
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 10:30am – 4:30pm AEST.
422 Church St Richmond VIC Australia. Near Swan Street.
PHONE: (03) 9429 1139