Never a Dull Moment

Adam Sweet of The Cook’s Edge showcases Japanese knives and shares tips on blade selection, care, and sharpening.

“The Santoku translates to three virtues or three problems,” Adam Sweet of The Cook’s Edge tells me as he pulls a Japanese knife with a short blade out of a display case. “And the three problems you usually have in a kitchen are slicing, dicing, and mincing. This knife solves all of them.”

The Cook’s Edge might appear to be a knife shop solely for chefs seeking high-quality tools of the trade, but spend just a few minutes in Sweet’s tiny, second story shop on Sydney Street in Charlottetown. No matter your cooking abilities, you’ll come to truly appreciate knives thanks to his wealth of knowledge and passion.

“There was nowhere to get knives here in the Maritimes. This would be the largest selection of Japanese knives east of Montreal,” Sweet says. A red seal chef by training, Sweet spent almost two decades cooking in restaurants in Alberta and PEI, including Terre Rouge, which he helped open alongside head chef Dave Mottershall. “Two years after that I was at the point in my career where I’m still passionate about food, but I’m not passionate about working in restaurants because it wears on you.”

A display case full of sharp knives//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie

In the spring of 2015, Sweet approached SkillsPEI and Innovation PEI to discuss the idea of opening a knife shop. With help from Futurpreneur, a national non-profit that provides various supports to young entrepreneurs, Sweet drafted up a business plan. Six short months later he received a loan and opened his shop in downtown Charlottetown.

“When I opened up I had this knife case with twelve knives,” Sweet says. Sweet now offers a large selection of Japanese knives from highly-esteemed blacksmiths and knife makers including Haruyuki, Masashi Yamamoto, Miyabi, Sugimori, and Tojiro. The shop also carries oyster shuckers and other essential gear for the professional chef, including frying pans, whisks, tweezers, microplanes and more.

“The Japanese have just been making knives for a long time, longer than anyone,” Sweet says, explaining why he’s stocked the shop with knives from halfway around the world. “The Japanese make their knives with harder steel, their techniques are the best in the world. So the harder the steel, the sharper a knife can get. They’re generally more thin than a Western knife […] the thinner the blade, the less resistance when cutting.”

There are, in fact, several differences in the design of Japanese knives and the material used versus Western knives. Each has its pros and cons, but Sweet suggests that over ninety percent of today’s chefs prefer working with Japanese knives. And who wouldn’t want to work with knives with names that translate to ‘beef sword’ (Gyuto), ‘willow blade’ (Yanagi ba), and ‘flesh cutter’ (Sujihiki)?

“This is my favourite knife from Takeda and this guy, his workshop started in 1920 with his grandfather,” says Sweet, pulling another knife out of a display case. Shosui Takeda, a third generation master blacksmith, continues to forge every knife by hand and uses blue carbon steel. “You can polish it to a mirror,” Sweet tells me.

Japanese knifemakers mark their blades with symbols to identify the maker, location, and other unique attributes. The reason for the heart on the Takeda blades is unknown//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie

In spite of his affection for Japanese knives, Sweet sees value in having Western knives in the kitchen as well. Made with a softer steel, they’re more durable and affordable. While the hard steel means Japanese knives chip more easily, but the edge stays longer and they’re easier to sharpen. “You don’t want to take a high performance Japanese knife down a dirt road. It’s like a Ferrari, they require more care but they reward you with precision cutting.”

Keen to educate home cooks and aspiring chefs on knives and knife care, Sweet has created a welcoming, easygoing ambience at his shop, an impressive feat given it’s filled with sharp blades. In the hour I spend in the shop, I learn plenty that I can take back to my own kitchen. For example, knives should never be left to air dry or be put in a dishwasher. Both will compromise the quality of the steel and the heat of a dishwasher will damage the handle over time. Another no-no is using your knife to push cut vegetables to the side of your cutting board. Dragging the blade across the board will dull it faster. Also, a wood cutting surface is ideal, particularly larchwood, followed by plastic. Bamboo is a terrible surface because it’s much harder than wood.

Most importantly, I come to appreciate the importance of a sharp blade. Sweet uses a dull knife to demonstrate the difference when cutting a tomato. With the dull knife, tomato seeds and the inner juices spill out onto the cutting board, while a tomato cut with one of his Japanese knives releases nothing. “You’re changing the way it tastes in your mouth, because you’re crushing the food,” Sweet explains. “So respecting the farmer means not only using everything up, but using a sharp knife to cut your food, at least that’s the way I see it.”

Sweet carries a large selection of knives suitable for every type of kitchen preparation, from vegetables to fish to meat to bread//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie

Steak eaters should also take note, as Sweet suggests never using a serrated knife to cut the meat. “It tears the proteins apart and changes the mouthfeel of steak. A straight-edged knife is the proper way to cut a steak, because it changes everything in your mouth.”

Fortunately, you need not learn the art of knife sharpening, because Sweet offers a reasonably priced sharpening and repair service out of his shop as well.

“I’d like to be able to move into a larger location so we can have cooking classes and cutting classes and sharpening classes,” Sweet says of the future for The Cook’s Edge. For now, Sweet is happy to be providing chefs and home cooks with the opportunity to buy Japanese knives in his shop and through his online store, which has attracted customers from across Atlantic Canada and as far as California.

He’s also grateful for the support he’s received from the local chef community and others along the way, including chef Ilona Daniel, Murphy’s Hospitality Group, chef Lucy Morrow of Terre Rouge, and chef Mike Clark, as well as the folks at SkillsPEI, Innovation PEI, and Futurpreneur. He credits Kevin Kent, whom he met in Alberta, with inspiring his enduring love of Japanese knives.

“Everyone’s been really awesome,” Sweet says.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication’s inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon’s either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a holistic-nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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