About greg – the owner of hacher&krain
greg (centre) at Takefu Special Steel offices with President Matsuhigu Kono (right) in 2011
An Avid Traveller with a Passion for Anthropology
While standing on the ancient walls of Balkh, Afghanistan, watching the last Buzkashi game of 1972, I knew I was not only fortunate in having gotten myself there but accountable as a witness. My lifelong connection to anthropology has always been about what I define as active learning rather than passively absorbing it in a lecture hall or library. Being present, involved, and focusing on symbolic language, I spent time in central Sarawak, North East Thailand, Coastal Malaysia, Java Indonesia, Mindanao and Luzon Philippines and various prefectures of Japan. I did this until I witnessed the fall of Hong Kong in August of 2019.
My greatest teacher was Emanuel Santana, whom I met in 1977. Santana had arrived in Vietnam in 1951 as a 16-year-old French Legionnaire. He taught me the art of how to read cultural artifacts and symbolic language. His focus was to discern whether what was created was an item for trading (for use by a culture), selling (to send a thing outside of a culture), or if it was for personal use. Personal use refocuses the skill and intention expressed through a craft of fabric, wood, metal, ceramic or stone. The result changes the character of the finished artifact, its subtlety, grace and, most importantly, its cultural power.
Exploring Culinary Traditions and Knife Making
When I visited Japan for the first time (1977), I began studying their textile traditions and visual symbols. My first realization was that the Japanese textile arts, while practiced at levels of excellence and complexity, found nowhere else in the world were based on techniques developed by other nations (1).
Furthermore, the originating nation’s practice of these same techniques was to express their symbolic language to heal the sick, protect individuals in times of battle or spiritual challenge, participate in and bless the birth, death and marriage, crop, home or endeavour of the life events of culture. In Japan, with the rare exception of Buddhist and Shinto ritual robes, the expressions of excellence in their textile arts were based and continue to focus only on seasonal fashion goals.
In 2009, while in Italy, I decided to end my 30-year career of being a nomad in the service of publishing and graphic arts. Throughout my travels in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, South East Asia, Hong Kong and Japan, I always found knife makers or knife stores unlike anything in North America, especially in Europe, where knife stores were very connected to the culinary arts of their respective nations.
The global culinary world was exploding, which inspired me to consider what could happen if I were to present a variety of culinary knife traditions in a retail setting. Personal use was central to my approach in sourcing and learning about the culinary knife traditions of the nations I was able to travel to.
Entrepreneurship in the Culinary World
Having the tools for hunting, learning and sorting out fact from fiction after years of cultural investigation allowed me to build a solid knowledge base around the global culinary knife industry, its trends, and history. Then, seek out and build a more substantive relationship than just wholesale buying. So, I started, spending the next two years figuring out who I wanted to work with. I travelled worldwide to find those who could tell the tale of their culinary history and explain how it has been shaped for the past 200 years.
When I got to Japan, I realized what I had learned about their textiles was alive in the culinary knife infrastructure. I already knew that their culinary knives were like their textiles. All their main designs came from other nations, meaning their knife makers held a different position in the overall infrastructure of their country compared to European traditions. The people I wanted to get to know were Japanese knife steel makers. They held the key to the whole industry. After all, with only two companies dominating the industry to over 90% (Takefu still Japanese-owned and Yasugi American-owned), they set the tone of the industry as a whole.
14 years later, the Toronto knife store (hacher&krain) I opened still sells culinary knives from around the world, not just from one country. What has happened to culinary knife industry is wonderful. What has been done to the consumers who have come to this industry is shameful.
I differ from all the others in the knife industry with the firm belief that an informed consumer is the most important part of our industry.
It is wonderful that the originators and the custom knife makers throughout North America and Europe are redefining the future of the culinary knife. Unfortunately, the culinary knife industry is full of pretenders, posers and uneducated opinion experts whose skillful social media talents excavate the wallets of trusting consumers with false information and flaccid presumptions. It is K-Sabatier, Roselli, and Gude whose shoulders the Japanese retail proxies stand on. They are saying, “Emperor has no clothes,” and the future is coming hard and fast.
(1) Here are 4 textile techniques with their originating and Japanese names. History has proven that while Japan elevated each technique, the origins of each method had taken place in other nations:
ii. Ikat (Indonesia, inspiration from India) / Kasuri (Japan)
- Wikipedia claims Ikat originated in Indonesia, but any historian will confirm that the export trade textiles from India are the inspiration and, in many cases, the template for much of the Ikat produced in Indonesia. The most well-known production centers for textile export historically were Gugarat and Orisa. Each of them still practices both the single and double they are famous for in Asia. As a technique, Ikat can be found throughout parts of Central and South America.
- Kasuri is a Japanese form of Ikat.
iii. Patola (India) / Tsumugi (Japan)
iv. Bandhani (India) / Shibori (Japan)