Since the Covid-19 pandemic blew into Hong Kong in late January, restaurants in this foodie capital have been fighting for their lives. Now with the third wave, hopefully, under control, eateries are finally being allowed four to a table and opening hours approaching some semblance of normality – and profitability.
As they prepare to get back to work, chefs across Hong Kong are sharpening their knives. These tools come in many shapes, sizes, and prices, from the inexpensive chopper used by Cheng Kam-fu at the Michelin-starred restaurant Celebrity Cuisine to Mitsuhiro Araki’s katana-like sashimi knife, which is of such high quality that it could be in a museum.
Knives are more than every-day kitchen equipment. Many of the city’s chefs have an intimate relationship with their favourite blade, recalling exactly when and where they bought it, and how it became an extension of their body.
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The owner of the one-Michelin-star Tate Dining Room, in Sheung Wan, has about 20 knives, but her favourite is the one she bought last year in Japan.
“I went on a tour of Osaka with Relais & ChAteaux (an international association of independent hotels and restaurants, of which Tate is the only Hong Kong member), and one of the places on the itinerary was a knife shop and everyone was eager to go,” Vicky Lau recalls. “Most of the knife makers used to make samurai swords.”
Sasuke is a fifth-generation workshop that makes knives by hand, and customers usually wait three months for their purchase. Luckily for Lau, as the shop tour was arranged in advance, she was able to take one home on the spot.
“I tested it and it is light, well balanced and perfect for everyday use, even fish or meat,” says Lau, having gained a chef’s sixth sense for knives now that she is into her late 30s. “As a woman, this knife is not too heavy, some handles can be too big for me to grip. This one fits nicely.”
She finds the knife easy to rock forwards and backwards when chopping, requiring little energy. However, she must sharpen the knife every day with two Japanese water stones. “I have to polish it otherwise it will rust,” she says.
Cheng Kam-fu, executive chef of the one-Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant Celebrity Cuisine, in Central, tends to use one chopper to prepare all his dishes. Despite its size, the cleaver is quite light, with a very sharp blade.
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