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Tosho Knife Arts a History: Cook. Jog. Sharpen.

When I worked in kitchens, two things kept me afloat: I jogged for hours after service, and then I went home and sharpened my knives. It kept my mind from dissolving, it connected my workspace to my spirit and soul. Being able to shift focus to something I built was euphoric. After some chaotic nights of service, I’d throw off my clogs and go into a trance, first running until I couldn’t feel my legs, and then diving into my blades, sharpening until my fingertips were raw.  

The sharpening process would go like this;
I would soak my stone for ten minutes and as I did this, I washed my knives under warm water. I’d make a slurry with my stone flattener, taking in the earthy smell. I’d create a bevel on the corners and edges of my stone.  And finally, slow and steady, I would sharpen my knives, imagining myself as if I was surfing on the cutting edge, an even and consistent pressure across the slurry. Three of my fingers were half on and half off of the stone, this was my way to regulate the angle. I remember one day after the euphoria of ending a long day, thinking…I could do this for life. This felt like something I could fully commit to, my escape. It seemed at the time, like a distant dream.

Somehow, the next week I found myself in one of those serendipitous meetings, where I met a hand sharpener named Ivan Gomez Fonseca.  Our connection sprung out of the question: where does one find reliable sharpening in Toronto?  I started teaching a basic knife skills class at Good Egg in Kensington Market, hoping I could integrate a little knife sharpening in the mix. Most people in the class, however, preferred if they could bring their knives in to be serviced.  A staff at the shop overheard this repeated inquiry.  She then met a George Brown culinary student who was taking his knives to get sharpened by this man -- Ivan -- so his email address and phone number ended up with me!

We had a series of conversations, as I wanted to know his philosophy and approach to knives. There was something in particular that he said in our email thread that stuck with me: “Yah it's a lot of work doing both full time but you get energy from something you're obsessed with, I cringe at the way most people abuse their knives which I feel is an extension of your own body!”

We agreed to meet at a local café. I wasn’t sure what he looked like at first, but when Ivan arrived he had the air of a knife sharpener. I don’t know how else to explain it. He walked in solemn and calm, with a leather knife roll under his arms. In this leather roll, I saw for the first time such a thorough collection of handmade, rare steels with stag and ebony handles (more extensive even than in any shop I saw on my trips to Japan). Polished carefully, kept almost as if untouched, but he did use them - everyday in his professional career as a chef. I trusted this instinctively. We got along really well, and there was immediately an understanding between us, simply by how we appreciated and respected knives. As Ivan said it in the last blog, the rest is history. I learned later that Ivan approached knives with a sword polishing perspective, as this is something he was interested in.  He loved cutting with swords (he practiced iaido) and since the history of knife making stems from sword making, his application seemed to me, beyond relevant.

I remember a blacksmith joked about how I could’ve opened up shop with any one of the current knife shop owners out there at the time. My response was, I wouldn’t have started a business with anyone else. It was Ivan’s approach and vision he has for the finishing of knives that made me want to create a place for this special thing. When we met, the timing was right, and our synergy is what brought Tosho about. Ivan needed help to expand his sharpening business with someone who understood him and the potential of what a knife could be. When we made the decision to move forth with it, Tosho happened naturally and quickly.  

Which were the first knives we carried, even before Tosho became a company?  Konosuke-Sakai.

To Be Continued...

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