By Mary Ann Colihan
Lawrence Burden’s retail career has had a few sharp turns. But being on the knife’s edge – literally – is Kiss the Cook’s competitive advantage.
Burden gave up a career teaching Hebrew studies to join his father’s beauty supply business. After they sold the company, he partnered with Linda Boniface of Chez Cheveux Hair Salon, whom he calls a merchandising guru, to open a Richmond Row kitchen shop. When she died in 2003 he had to adjust, quickly. “She was the foodie. I was more the retailer,” he says. “I had to learn the trade in-depth.”
Burden’s strategy is simple. “I hire really talented people,” he says and feels fortunate that Sally Davies has worked in the store since they opened in 2000.
Burden also has a samurai soldier in the war against dull knives. Devon Curtis, a classical studies graduate from Western University, is Kiss the Cook’s resident knife specialist. He started to work in the store as a student. “I love food tools of the trade and I love to cook,” says Curtis. “My first passion was photography, and that’s where I learned the importance of the right tools. Lots of people like knives because of the macho aspect, but that’s not it for me.”
Kiss the Cook stocks a full range of the sharpest sabres in town. Curtis is adamant that the quality of the knife is secondary. “The difference between a $20 knife and $100 knife is huge, but between $100 and $200 – not so much. It’s all about how you maintain it.” He is partial to Japanese knives because they are made out of the hardest steel and are like works of art. They stock major German and Japanese brands like Kikuchi and Shun. Curtis also recommends wooden cutting boards so knives hit a natural surface with a grain.
Watching Curtis sharpen a knife is like poetry in motion. He uses two stones as well as stone clamps and stone flatteners. Remarkably, although he hones knives to a scalpel’s edge, he has never been cut. “The technique comes through doing it, the logic of it,” he says. “You need to have a Zen-like concentration so you don’t slip. The stone and edge of the knife must be in contact. Then it is not on your finger.”
Another best seller at Kiss the Cook is Le Creuset French enamel cast-iron cookware in fiesta shades like tangerine, turquoise, navy, green and red. “You have to make these all stainless steel kitchens pop,” says Burden. “That’s why these bright colours are so popular.”
Burden says his customers also look to cast-iron cookware as an environmentally friendly choice. “People come in and want to know what they should be afraid of,” he says about the concern over non-stick pans.
Kiss the Cook provides a wide range of cookware and kitchen gadgets, and they also stock giftware and offer a popular bridal registry. Chris Squire, who was also partly responsible for dreaming up the name Kiss the Cook, is their Chef-in-Residence, along with a variety of local chefs who offer cooking classes.
For those of us Lost in Translation when it comes to knives, Kiss the Cook has the answer: maintenance. They recommend sharpening knives two to four times a year and charge $10 per knife. They will also hone knives to suit a left-handed cook.
Mary Ann Colihan writes about the environment and sustainable food systems. She co-authored a book on farmers’ markets and is at work on a book about Kingsmill’s Department Store.