The art form known as cooking cannot be done with pleasure—or exactness—without an arsenal of sharp-edged tools. After a few minutes speaking with Douglas Chang, proprietor of Ai & Om Knives, it becomes clear that the tools themselves can be works of art, too.
“Take fire and a knife—that’s cooking right there,” says Chang, breaking down the essentials on the cozy shop floor of Ai & Om, open since September in Vancouver’s Chinatown. A chef himself, Chang cut his teeth at the likes of West and Sai Woo in Vancouver and Splendido in Toronto before meeting individual knife blacksmiths, sharpeners, and designers at their workshops in Japan. Tosho Knife Arts, Ai & Om’s sister store in Toronto, helped make introductions and a path was carved for Chang’s dream to turn into reality.
“It can be tricky,” admits Chang of his work with small-scale artisans. “Sometimes I order knives from certain blacksmiths and they say, ‘It’ll be ready in a year and a half.’ So it takes a long time to get inventory and stock.” But you’d never know after setting foot in the store: walls hang with cutting boards, sharpeners, leather knife cases, a few axes for good measure, and of course neat display cases of handcrafted Japanese knives with steel blades. Consisting of 30 different labels including Nenox and Takeda, the selection ranges from traditional folding pocket knives to rarer cuts, like a statement sashimi knife made by renowned swordsmith Kiyoshi Kato.
Ai & Om has become a sanctuary for everyday cooks, professional chefs, and collectors alike, all with the shared foresight to purchase a good knife, take care of it, and hand it down to the next generation. “I still have my grandmother’s knife,” Chang notes proudly. “And it’s still usable at 100 years old.”
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