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Japanese Knives
The Fundamental of Japanese Cooking

Hocho, or Japanese kitchen knives, have a worldwide reputation both for their excellent cutting quality and artistic beauty. Japanese swords first started to be made in Japan in the early Heian period (794-1185) utilizing swordsmith techniques brought over from China and the Korean Peninsula. The oldest "knife" preserved at the Shoso-in (a repository in Nara from the 8th century where a number of many National Treasures are kept) is shaped like a miniature Japanese sword that a samurai would have carried, which suggests their shared origins.

The distinguishing feature of Japanese knives is their razor-sharp edge. While Western knives are sharpened on both sides, traditional Japanese knives are only honed on one, yielding a super-fine edge. Using even a slightly dull knife can discolor food. For this reason, both Japanese and foreign cooks and chefs who pride themselves on such subtleties, keep their Japanese knives razor-sharp, a process which takes a fair bit of time on a regular basis.

In spite of advances in modern-day technology, the techniques used in making kitchen knives have hardly changed since ancient times. Today, just as in the beginning, only a craftsman's dexterity can be relied upon. Making Japanese knives is far from being a profession that suits mass production.

Japanese knives are traditionally made with a type of carbon steel called hagane, which comes in various gradations. Cutting implements made with hagane can hold an extremely sharp edge, which is why this material was also used to forge samurai swords. However, hagane is a relatively soft steel that's meant to be maintained regularly; professional chefs sharpen and take care of their knives every day, but a hagane blade that's not maintained regularly will dull, chip and rust. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is very easy to maintain; it doesn't rust and holds a sharp edge for long time.

A good hagane knife will last at least 20 years, but the user has to maintain it properly. Not sure who you can trust to learn more? No worries -here are three specialists of hocho in Kyoto who you can count on and trust to learn more about Japanese hocho.

Interview with Alexandre Thorr
Founder of Aogami Kyoto Japanese Cooking School & Kitchen Knives

Aogami Kyoto is the ultimate destination to have an original "Washoku" Japanese cooking experience as well as deepening your knowledge about Japanese hocho kitchen knives in English or French. Alexandre Thorr, the founder of Aogami Kyoto, talks about his passion for food and why Japanese food culture is so attractive.

Having grown up in Lorraine and Alsace, two regions of France with a vivid culinary tradition, and raised in a family of food enthusiasts, Alexandre has always taken for granted that eating and cooking is an essential joy in life. His mother, grandmother and grandaunts are all great cooks and constantly shared their knowledge and recipes with him.

His passion for cooking and eating is serious, however, interestingly, the career he chose to follow first was very different from his personal passion; he worked as a lawyer and a tax specialist both in France and Japan for many years. With the objective of changing career he later took an intensive professional cooking training. "I moved to Japan almost ten years ago and started to live in Kyoto with my Japanese wife, a pastry chef, who is running a pastry & cooking school. In 2018, I launched Aogami Kyoto."

Since he settled in Japan, Alexandre has spent a considerable amount of time learning about "Washoku" Japanese cuisine and Kyoto traditions. He joined several Japanese cooking schools to hone his skills and acquire new techniques while learning with his mother-in-law more about ingredients and home-made recipes, visited markets and shops, explored izakaya and discussed with chefs about dashi stock preparation.

In addition to learning Japanese cooking, participants can learn about Japanese hocho and its cutting techniques through Alexandre's deep knowledge and experiences. Not only has he learned how to use them, his curiosity made him visit time-honored hocho production areas in Japan, such as Seki in Gifu and Sakai in Osaka. Through watching shokunin craftsmen's works in the studio and engaging in conversations with them, his knowledge and passion for Japanese hocho and cooking grew even deeper.

"Which hocho you choose and how to use it affects the final taste and appearance of the dishes. Cutting food with a sharp hocho is not only meant to make food easier to eat but also to improve flavor and preserve 'umami'," Alexandre confirms. It is true that maintaining a hocho requires time and knowledge, however, the longer you take and cherish a hocho, the more it becomes the only one hocho for you through the years.

Join Alexandre's class at Aogami Kyoto and let him share his experiences, knowledge and passion for Japanese cooking and hocho. Participants will discover full knowledge of local ingredients, how to cook several typical delicious dishes, and how to use and maintain hocho after his intimate and educational class.

Aogami Kyoto
Traditional Japanese 3-hours cooking class: "Ichiju-Sansai" One Soup & Three Dishes 8,640 yen/ person; Accepted from 2 to 7 people; 18:00 to 20:30; Contact Alexandre and discuss with him to find the best class for you; www.aogami.jp

The beauty of sharpness born from a combination of German engineering and finest Japanese craftsmanship

Graceful, precise and sophisticated are words best describing Japanese culture and they also perfectly describe the MIYABI series, one of ZWILLING J.A. HENCKELS internationallyacclaimed brands. Superior knives are crafted in their directly-managed factory in Seki City, Gifu Prefecture, known as a capital of samurai sword making since the 14th century.

The blades (steel) are heated to extreme temperatures and cooled at extreme temperatures; this process makes the steel harder.

Unlike most other ZWILLING's factories where many processes are operated by machines, in Seki, 80% of the entire process is done by a shokunin's (experienced craftsperson) hands, which still follow almost the same techniques of samurai sword making that the shokunin in the 14th century used to pour their soul into their products.

Blade core made of CMV60 steel embedded in 64 layers of stainless steel. "D-handle" allows tireless working of all cutting techniques. Symmetric blades with an ultra-sharp Honbazuke honing. The Damascus design inspired by the sand patterns of the inner garden of Kyoto's famous World Heritage Ryoanji Temple. Chef's Knife 20cm B-grade price: 13,800 yen (SRP 23,000 yen) *B-grade item; No problem in use, B-grade due to box crushing or a little scratch.

Their exquisite sharpness results from a combination of German engineering and the finest Japanese craftsmanship. Prominent Japanese sword-making techniques achieve incredibly sharp blades and also possess an artistically beautiful appearance. The blade can easily cut any food item, from a completely ripened tomato to fish with thick bones, smoothly and easily, without the need for any applied pressure.

Striking spark Damascus pattern, core of FC61 steel for strength and durability, and perfectly balanced for enhanced maneuverability. MIYABI 800DP -HIBANA- collection features original blade and bolster design combined with a gorgeous 49-layer Damascus pattern on the blades called "Spark" or "Hibana" that both strengthens and protects. Santoku 18cm : 28,000 yen

"ZWILLING J.A. HENCLELS Kyoto Made in Japan Store" is a new concept store based around showcasing products made in Japan to an international audience. The store will stock a full line-up of MIYABI brand products, including overseas models, and Englishspeaking staff will be on hand at all times to assist customers from around the world. Come and visit the store and try your own hand to see how sharp and beautiful their knives truly are.

ZWILLING Kyoto "Made in Japan" Store
Open: 10:00-17:00
See ad on KVG(pg 9; 345th Issue) with a 10% off Coupon!

Learn about Japanese knives and cooking with "Mottainai" mind

Opening in 2018, the renovated machiya is bright and airy with a beautiful open kitchen where the chefs can be seen busily preparing the day’' fresh fish and homemade tsukemono (Japanese pickles). The menu at LORIMER KYOTO is simple and built around the concept of "mottainai" - zero waste cooking.

Named after the L Train stop in Brooklyn, NY, where the company's mottainai mission began, LORIMER is a destination for Shoku Iku: education through food. Not only a Japanese Breakfast cafe, they also house a dedicated teaching kitchen on their second floor, offering classes from knife sharpening and sushi making to fish butchery, if you were so inspired by the scenes from the kitchen.

Classes are intimate, only a few students at a time are admitted so as to really make the most from the experience. Students can choose to purchase their own personally engraved knife from Japanese knife makers, Takayuki Sakai, a company with a 600-year history who once crafted swords for ancient samurai lords from their steel forges.

Throughout the lesson, the expert chefs at Lorimer highlight the differences between traditional Japanese style knives and Western style knives, starting with a demonstration and easing students into the best practices of whetstone use, before imparting the basics of whetstone sharpening. Next, guests are encouraged to try the techniques which are as old as the steel forgeries themselves.

After the knives are primed and ready, the sashimi portion of the class begins. In this part of the class where carefully selected fish become a meal to be treasured, the chefs start with a grade A filet, working to remove the skin using their own knives and proffering up their knowledge of Japanese blade techniques to slice the fish into sashimi, turning their simple ingredients into a delectable looking dish by perfectly arranging the pieces for consumption.

Respectful of traditional Japanese fish preparation, the class takes a whole fish and breaks it down completely, from removing scales, head and innards to filleting, removing skin, slicing sashimi and creating a masterpiece sashimi plate, so you never have to feel nervous about buying a whole fish again. It really is true that seeing the whole story from prep to plate, does indeed make the dish taste sweeter.

Lorimer Kyoto
Tel: 075-741-6439; 7:30-14:30; Closed Wed.; https://www.lorimerkyoto.com/