Here to sharpen up your knowledge of Japanese knives — and a whole lot more — are London’s self-proclaimed cookery kit obsessives, Kitchen Provisions
Three friends with a shared love for food are behind an inspiring new opening for those similarly inclined. Kitchen Provisions has just arrived at Coal Drops Yard, specialising in hand-forged knives for chefs and keen home cooks, alongside a carefully picked range of ceramics, books, clothing and some killer ketchups, jams, chutneys and chocolates, too. Former chef, Tom Saunders, is resident knife obsessive, while Jake Knibbs hails from a design and woodwork background. We spoke to third partner and collection curator Helen Symonds about how they carved out their niche.
What are the founding principles that brought the Kitchen Provisions team together?
We wanted to sell quality products that had an international influence, but universal application. While a lot of the kit might appear niche at first, it can be used across many different styles of cooking and applied to a wide range of tasks. When selecting products, we want to show people things that they might not have seen before, which means sourcing internationally and from small designer-makers.
This takes a bit more effort than ordering from large wholesale companies as we quite often work with the makers to establish what will appeal to the customer. We work hard to have a good range of products at different prices, as there isn’t really a skill to just stocking loads of really expensive items.
What are the key elements that go into a really good knife?
Knives are the embodiment of form following function. A lot of the different finishes — like the kurouchi [blackened exterior to protect more reactive carbon steel knives] or tsuchime [hammer finish to help with food release from the blade] — might have pleasing aesthetics, but the looks came about for functional reasons. The design of a knife is all about how it feels in your hand, the balance of the blade and the proportions of the whole thing. This is about the physical dimensions of the blade but also the way in which it is sharpened and finished.
So what are the hallmarks of a bad design?
In the perfect knife you won’t notice how good the blade geometry is, but in a poorly thought out design, it will feel clunky and hard to work with. The worst is when someone has punched out a mediocre shaped knife, finished it badly and clearly spent more of their time putting a bling handle on it. We’re not averse to interesting handle designs, but never at the expense of the blade.
What are some of your all-time favourite tales of knife geekery, discovered on your travels?
The most surprising thing about the Japanese industry is the small scale on which the hand-forged blades are made. We travel out to Sakai and Takefu and visit the makers in their forges and these are still tiny operations where the majority of tasks are done by hand by the makers themselves. When you get a knife made by Yu Kurosaki — one of our favourite makers who we are proud to stock — he will have been involved in every element of the making process and responsible for the complete fit and finish of the blade. It’s very much still a cottage industry and there aren’t big machines churning out thousands of knives at a time — this is what makes it so special and what is produced so unique. In terms of ultra-specialist products, we do stock some niche items from Katsuobushi; graters for shaving dried tuna into bonito flakes, wasabi graters and suribachi for grinding sesame seeds. But the biggest bit of geekery and the whole secret to kitchen equipment is always having a sharp knife. This is why we offer sharpening on whetstones in-store and run classes on maintenance, too.
Kitchen gadgets can notoriously sit gathering dust in cupboards rather than proving to be kitchen essentials, so how do you advise aspiring home cooks on what they really need?
We try to avoid gadgets or anything faddy for that very reason. Basically, if you haven’t got a good knife, it really isn’t worth thinking about mandolins, graters and the rest. We suggest you should focus on putting your budget into one decent all-around chef’s knife, and don’t trust anyone who tries to sell you knives in sets, you won’t use half of them, and the fun is in building up a collection as you go.
Which London-based makers should we keep an eye out for in your Coal Drops Yard store in the coming weeks?
In terms of knives, we love what Joel Black is doing. His designs are really distinctive and he’s branched out into a wider range of shapes and finishes. For the more Japanese styling, you can’t beat Two Sticks Forge for UK makers as the quality of the finish is second to none. Other makers include Michael K Chapman, a ceramicist and illustrator with a real contemporary eye for colour, and Karin Hossack, a locally-based ceramicist who uses the most beautiful berry palette. In terms of really design-led makers, we’re thrilled to stock Skalpel, an innovative range of steak knives, alongside Polka Pants, London-designed and made chef’s trousers for women.
Kitchen Provisions / Yard level-Coal Drops Yard
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Read more about the people and stories that make King’s Cross, or find out where you can pick up the latest copy of King’s Cross Quarterly below.