by Malcolm Jolley
Early into a stage at Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant in New York City, Olivia Go realised that if she was going to be able to make her daily requirement of “parsley dust” she better get some seriously good knives. Meanwhile, kitchen veteran Ivan Fonseca (Messis) was quietly building a sharpening business for professional chefs and knife enthusiasts in Toronto. By the time Go returned to her hometown to work, she had become dedicated knife skills enthusiast and educator. She found Fonseca and started working with him, holding workshops for people who wanted to take better care of their blades. Meanwhile, Fonseca, had begun to sell saya covers online, the handmade wooden sheaths for top-grade Japanese knives. One Japan’s top artisinal blade makers found his website and proposed they work together. Since the first question many of Fonseca’s customers and Go’s students asked each of them was where they could get top quality knives, the two decided to go into business together and launch Tosho Knife Arts on Markham Street in Mirvish Village this summer.
To describe Tosho Knife Arts as a shop, or a boutique, doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more like an art gallery. Along on wall is a long bookshelf-like display case displaying a range of top-end Japanese knives from precision forged stainless steel to hand forged carbon steel made by a blacksmith in a manner that has not changed for 400 years. The effect is mesmerisingly beautiful – it’s, in fact, Zen. And to guide each student through the experience is the master-teacher Fonseca, who can describe each blade, how and why it’s made, from the ones that go for a few hundred to the ones that go for a thousand.
On a recent visit, I asked Go if her store might be really just for serious chefs and collectors. She looked at me with a quizzical but also amused expression and explained that since, if you cook at all, you’ll have to use a knife anyway, you may as well use the best one you can. But what if you’re a hack like me, I replied, is it worth it to buy something you really don’t know how to use? Of course, she replies, it’s better to learn using a proper knife – how else will you learn how to cut properly? Aha, thought the grasshopper.
Visit www.toshiknifearts.com to learn more about their unique and fascinating collection of knives and accessories, or much better, visit this serene outpost of civility and craftsmanship in person at 602 Markham Street, Lower Level.
Malcolm Jolley is the executive director of Good Food Media, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to educating the public about artisanal food and the publisher of Good Food Revolution. Follow him at twitter.com/malcolmjolley.