“I cooked for a long, long, long, long, time, I’ve been a chef forever,” says Kevin Kent, “I fell into cooking as I needed a job, and one day I figured out that I actually liked it.”
Starting life in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and growing up in Sakastoon, Kent moved to Calgary when he was in junior high. He started cooking at sixteen years old, worked in a YMCA kid’s camp, and studied at SAIT before leaving to travel the world with his archaeologist girlfriend. In 1999, they ran out of money in Turkey, and took a cheap flight to London. “I’m English on paper,” he says, “so the idea was to make a couple of quick bucks and continue our travels. Instead we ended up getting married and stayed for eight years. Oops!”
Kent discovered Japanese knives in London. “I tried a Japanese knife when I was a chef and thought ‘holy moly that’s sharp’. There was a guy who was a knife maker and had a little tiny shop,” he says. ”I realised talking to him, that the big deal is that Japanese knives are made with harder steel, which means they’re going to stay sharp longer, and we can make them sharper.”
He’d swapped all his German/Italian/Swiss kit for Japanese knives in London but when he moved back to Canada, he couldn’t find anything at the same standard. Enlisting the help of the London knife maker, he made contacts in Japan. “I thought that I’ll sell a few knives so I can afford knives, and I’ll open a restaurant – except now I’ve got five knife stores across Canada.”
So what is the bottle that Kent is saving for a special occasion?
There’s a bottle of 2007 Sake Hitosuji Junbaishu on the table. “When we opened the store that we’re currently in, our 760 sq. ft. megastore, Richard Harvey of Metrovino came by on Day 1 and brought me a bottle of umeshu. In Japan you eat ume every day. It’s usually umeboshi, which is preserved or pickled, fermented or in sweet syrup, and often sweet and sour together,” he explains. “And then they make umeshu, sometimes called Plum Wine, and I’ve had bad experiences. I just find it very cloying – it’s sweet and almost medicinal tasting.”
“He shows up and says ‘I’ve brought you this’. ‘Umeshu, oh nice’, I said,” Kent laughs, “and he said ‘No, no Kevin, I know most of them are terrible and this one’s lovely’ – and I have never opened it because I had never felt the occasion. I feel like I should now, I’ve done some research, and this is a really nice bottle. It’s not made with Shōchū, it’s made with nihonshu, which we call sake. This is rice with plums and a bit of sugar, fermented together. And this is apparently THE umeshu – if you are ever going to drink umeshu, THIS is the one.”
And when will he open the bottle?
“I feel embarrassed now that I have never opened it; I’ve been saving it for a special occasion!” says a sheepish-looking Kent. “Let’s see, I’ve had a child since this bottle arrived in my life, and I’ve opened five stores… maybe when I open a knife store in Kyoto – I know that sounds like a crazy idea, but on it’s on my list of things to do – I want to open Knifewear Kyoto.”
And when might that be? Kent estimates it will be 2020, “It was on my ten-year list for a while, but it’s on my five-year list now. I really have to open this, so now I really have to open a Kyoto store – but I really want to open it now!”
Photos by Ingrid Kuenzel