For Douglas Chang, using a good knife is like putting on a sexy outfit.
The chef—formerly of Sai Woo, West, and Bambudda in Vancouver, Eleven Madison Park in New York City, and Splendido in Toronto—didn’t exactly trade in his knives to run a business. Rather, he turned his knives into a business: Ai & Om.
“When you’re using a nice knife, you feel better,” he says, standing inside the minimalist shop, which was designed by Vancouver’s Scott & Scott Architects and founded in partnership with Toronto’s Tosho Knife Arts. Chang has been honing his knife skills and knowledge for 13 years, learning the delicate arts of cutting and sharpening. Simple cedar display cases line the 900-square-foot Chinatown space, letting the pieces, as Chang says, “speak for themselves.” He envisioned the layout to be like that of a fancy sneaker store, where each shoe has its own special place on the wall.
“A good knife brings enjoyment into cooking,” Chang says, adding that it’s safer to use (and be cut by) a knife that slices properly. And while his customers thus far are mostly in the service industry, Chang believes even home cooks can find serious benefits in a quality knife. “It’s a pride thing, too,” he explains. “You should be proud of the tools you’re using.” To encourage this, he’ll be leading knife skills workshops that the public can participate in, and has a sharpening station on hand for those who want their current choppers to get a little pampered.
The knives offered at Ai & Om are all sourced directly from Japan, with a focus on traditional craftsmanship and family-run blacksmiths. Brands such as Konosuke, Nenohi, and Akifusa show the incredible breadth and uniqueness available for purchase, from the style and material of the handle, to the size and shape of the blade, to the pattern etched right onto the element.
Ai & Om (“ai” loosely translated to “love” from Mandarin and “om” to “care” from Japanese) employs many Japanese design values, such as shizen (naturalness) and kanso (simplicity). On the micro level, it preaches the importance of good knives—but on the macro one, it promotes a life of simplicity and quality, of precision and passion, of love and care, in all that we do.