If you’re ever called upon to guess where a chef got one of his favourite knives, there’s a good chance the answer is Germany or Japan.
But Craig Flinn’s knife that is both a tool and a story came from China, which in most cases would be a terrible guess.
The Halifax restaurateur bought his Kinmen chef’s knife from Lower Sackville sharpener par excellence Peter Nowlan. Kinmen is a group of islands between Taiwan and mainland China, the ownership of which has long been disputed, which is why the place used to be rotten with propaganda bombs.
Instead of exploding and killing people, propaganda bombs split open and disseminate leaflets designed to change your thinking. A craftsman named Maestro (master) Wu, who’d been making knives since 1937, recognized the quality of the steel the bombs
were made from and gathered them all up. Now, making knives from that steel is a third-generation family business.
Flinn bought his five years ago.
“It’s one of my daily knives. I have a lot of knives, but it’s one of my go-to cooking at home knives,” the chef said. “The knife gets razor sharp, especially when Peter handles it, and it is a bit heavier. The handle is a little bit more squared off at the edges than a lot of traditional North American knives, where the handles tend to be more rounded and moulded to your hand.”
“I always look at it and think it reminds me of a weapon, or a sword. It looks a bit blockier, but I really like it because it has a unique feel. A lot of knives, even great hand-made knives, look a bit pre-fab. You can tell this one was made by hand, by a craftsperson, and I like that about it. It has a lot of character.”
Nowlan is almost positive there are only five Kinmen knives in Nova Scotia because he’s the guy who imported them and he’s the guy who sharpens them.
He got his first one five years ago from an American sharpener who lives in Taiwan.
“Craig has two, (chef ) Bill Pratt has one, Malcom Smith, who used to be the manager at Paderno, has one and I have one. I’m sure those are the only ones in Nova Scotia, and there are only a handful in Canada, actually,” Nowlan said. “They’re top-notch knives that are prized possessions in parts of Asia. When they’re sharp . . . they’re beyond razor sharp, they’re easy to sharpen, they hold an edge a good amount of time. And it’s the history.”
Kinmen knives come in all sorts of sizes andvarieties and, at about $200, are a little less expensive than a handmade Japanese knife.
Flinn said the straight blade and hooked nose on his Kinmen knife make it ideal for working with vegetables and doing a lot of chopping.
“You might choose another knife for boning meat or butchery work,” said Flinn, who isn’t on the line in the kitchen every day but keeps his collection of work knives in his office.
“I have eight or nine, all the basic ones: four chef ’s knives, then a boning, a filleting, a couple of nice paring knives, then a carving and a serrated,” he said. “And I have a similar set at home, about nine or 10, so around 20 in total. And I choose based on my mood, because I like them all so much. What knife will I cook with today? Oh, I think I’ll use this one. Where a lot of people have one (chef ’s) knife, I find it hard to stick with one.”