Market Chef : Arnon Kartmazov

October 17, 2012 |  by  |  Blog, News

This Sunday, October 21st, 2012, we have an extra treat before our noon Lunch and Learn Chef Demo with Patrick Pugh: Arnon Kartmazov will teach us all about knives starting at 11:00 am.

OK, so Arnon Kartmazov isn’t exactly a chef. He is a craftsman  a blacksmith and he makes incredible, artful chef’s knives. As any good cook knows, a great knife is the only tool you really need, and without it, you are essentially helpless. Kartmazov will be at the market, showing us his knives and sharing his craft this Sunday at 11:00. This week, he graciously agreed to tell us a bit about himself and how on earth he got into this work. Read all about it! (And read even MORE at: Bridgetown Forge.)

1. In as much detail as you can, tell me a bit about what you do.

I am a blacksmith who specializes in Japanese-style forged chef’s knives. I lived in Japan for 12 years prior to moving to Portland, and I apprenticed there studying the knife-maker’s craft. After moving to Portland, I used to do a lot of custom architectural work — things like large gates for wineries, balconies and railings and furniture. I have stepped back from all of that to concentrate on cutlery. Currently, I make 5 basic styles of knife: large veg slicer, small veg slicer, large meat knife, boning/paring knife, and cleaver. All the knives are forged from high-carbon tool steel, which is a preferred material for chef’s knives in japan, due to its ability to take a very keen edge, keep it for a long time, and yet be able to be re-sharpened with ease.

2. What brought you to this work? Why is it important to you?
I always liked making things with my hands; however, this wasn’t my first career: I trained and worked as a linguist in Japan before abandoning that line of work to apprentice to a blacksmith. There is a special kind of joy in forging hot steel; this craft is very versatile, and simply can’t be exhausted in a single lifetime. When in Japan, I discovered the joys of Japanese cuisine, and was amazed at both the aesthetics and performance of Japanese knives. I realized that I simply had to learn how to make these. Japanese culture is extremely seductive in terms of its aesthetics, but I had to choose a single field to focus on, and so, having done some smithing before arriving in Japan, and having a penchant for good food, I chose chef’s knives.

3. Tell me about your background in general? How did you end up in Portland? 
I was born in the USSR, but immigrated to Israel as a boy. I lived there for 15 years, until I went to Japan to pursue my studies. I stayed there for 12 years, learned the language, worked as a linguist for a bit and then quit to learn smithing. I opened my own shop in Kyoto, and worked there for 5 years. I came to Portland with my wife, Mia, whom I met in Japan. She’s from Rhode Island originally, and Portland seemed like a very good fit in terms of livability, appearance, and culture. We visited  while still living in Japan, and simply drove along the coast until we found a place we liked. My wife, who was a university teacher in Japan, also wanted to change careers. After attending the Oregon School of Oriental Medicine, she opened an acupuncture clinic right in our neighborhood. I wish I could work close in as well, but forging is loud work that shakes the ground and rattles the windows, so my shop is in an industrial part of North Portland. We really like it here.

4. Could you share some general knife advice for novices? They’re perhaps the most important tool in a cooks’ arsenal, but many cooks under value them or don’t care for them properly. I’d love to know what advice you have, or even just simple do’s and don’ts.

My advice is prejudiced, since I am very partial to Japanese sensibilities in terms of knife performance. I prefer carbon steel for knives — it requires a bit more care, as the blade will rust if neglected.  However, I feel that this is a small price to pay in terms of sheer performance and ease of sharpening. I cook a lot, and enjoy experimenting with different cuisines, and find that Japanese cutlery is more than equal to pretty much any task I care to throw at it. This superior performance stems from a few factors: the choice of steel and heat treatment will give maximum sharpness, the careful grinding will result in a very fine edge which will slice effortlessly through veg, fish or meat, and the blade and handle geometry and balance will give a natural hand position and fatigue-free usage.

DON’T: cut on anything but wood or plastic cutting board, put your knife in the dishwasher, sink or drainer (it’s dangerous as it can slice your hand open when you reach in, and it also damages the knife as the edge is knocked against glass and ceramic), use any kind of crude mechanical gizmo to sharpen the blade, use the knife as a can opener or a crowbar.

DO: rinse and wipe your knife after use, store it in a wood block edge up or on a magnetic rack, hone it using either a very fine diamond stone or a water stone (#3000 grit is about right for almost anything). Many chefs and home cooks use the steel rod, but I find that it doesn’t really generate a very good, long-lasting edge, and regular use tends to round the edge off and create unevenness in the edge line, which hurts performance and eventually calls for the whole knife to be re-ground. This shortens the life-span of a knife.

And would you share a favorite recipe with us?

NABEMONO — one-pot dish

It is a common perception in the west that Japanese food is fussy, pretty, comes in small portions, and tends to be sushi. Well, no. A lot of traditional Japanese food is hearty, filling, and just pure fun to make and to eat. Nabemono is one of them.  It is reportedly a frequent dish served to professional sumo wrestlers. This is a very popular communal Japanese dish, made and served at the table. A flavorful broth is brought to a simmer in a large clay pot  (called donabe) on a tabletop burner, and the guests are invited to drop (and fish out) whatever they wish to select from a wide variety of prepped food items on the table. My favorite variation is a Kimchi nabe. This is my variation on the dish — some elements are not traditionally Japanese. You can use a regular large pot if you don’t have the real deal; a cast-iron dutch oven works well.
  • Put a piece of dried kombu sea weed (available at most grocery stores), slashed, in the pot, and bring to a gentle simmer. Add good quality broth. Traditionally, dashi stock is used, but I find that home-made bone broth is excellent (beef, chicken, duck, pork, lamb or buffalo bones all work well).  Add salt, soy sauce, mirin, salt, fish sauce and sugar to taste — the broth should be pretty flavorful.  You may add some kimchi base if you want it spicy. Do not let the kombu boil hard at any time.
  • Prepare some steamed rice — I prefer sweet sticky brown rice for this dish, but other varieties work, too.
  • While the broth is coming to a boil, make some meatballs: mix ground meat (any kind,) eggs, salt, sugar, panko (japanese-style bread crumbs), sesame oil, and chopped green onions. Knead the mixture well and, wetting your hands, make meatballs about 1″ in diameter.
  • Chop/slice spinach, napa cabbage, tofu, (firm or soft, drained), fish (cod, salmon, snapper), daikon radish (cut into 1/2′ circles and quartered), mushrooms, and leeks. Arrange on separate plates. You can also add clams and shrimp.
  • Put whatever you want in the pot, let it simmer for a bit, fish it out, put in your bowl, add some broth, put some kimchi on top.  Keep in mind than some things, like daikon and meatballs, will take longer to cook than spinach and cabbage. Serve with  steamed rice on the side, and plenty of good sake and beer. You can add boiling water to keep the broth level constant — about 3/4 full.
  • When everything has been consumed but some broth still remains, drop some COOKED noodles or rice in it, let it come to a simmer, drop an egg or two, stir gently, and serve a final gobstopper. At this point, the broth will be amazingly rich.  Try not to embarrass yourself by forgetting your manners and imitating an industrial vacuum cleaner. I always do, anyhow, but I feel that fair warning is called for, as this is one of the most delicious things a human can prepare and eat. Traditionally, ponzu dipping sauce is also served, but I find that this is rather gilding the lily.

1 Comment

  1. Fantastic! Come see Arnon from 11:00 AM to Noon at this Sunday’s Market.

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