SHOPTALK with ABE SHAW of EATINGTOOLS

Hi there, I’m re-starting our blog and i’m going to try and post things that I find interesting and some news but I’m most excited about talking to some great people who I got to know through knifemaking and talk shop. So here is the first one:

Abe Shaw of EatingtoolsNY state, USA.

Tomer: Hi bud, How are you today? What’s going on?

Abe: I’m well, thanks! Happy New Year!

Tomer: To you as well! Now, we’ve known each other for a few years now, you were probably the first man to bring FKK to the US and you even attended my marriage dinner party which was right next door to you at our good friends, Joel and Julia’s place in Brooklyn. We know enough about each other by now to realise that we share a love for good food, good design and good tools, which is probably common to most people we know… I wanted to talk to you today about why that is and get your thoughts about it and about the knife business today and in the future.

I find that the connection between these 2 basic things to our nature, food and tools is at the heart of our fascination and passion towards knives. The overwhelming majority of people on the planet come into contact with these 2 things every day, something so basic to our lives and still, how many people really know their food or their knives? Do you think it’s important? And if so, what should someone really know about their knife and why?

Abe: Oh it’s absolutely important! I certainly wouldn’t do what I do otherwise. Food is sustenance. It’s our life source, quite literally. I do believe that the more people know about their food, the better, and that could of course be its own conversation. But knowing the tools that prepare that food, the knife especially, is part of the whole equation. I say ‘especially’ because chefs have often referred to their knife as an extension of their arm in the kitchen...it’s probably the one tool that more people have a personal, emotional connection to than any other. And there’s good reason for that; the knife is easily the most ancient of culinary tools which means it became a prerequisite to food preparation many millenia ago, and did so by allowing us to process edible materials, plant and animal, in a way that made it possible to cook and/or consume them. There’s no wonder chefs are so fascinated by knives. To know your knife is to know the food it helps prepare.

Tomer: What got you started in this business? Where does your passion for it comes from?

Abe: My love for the two things we just discussed is really where it all began. The knives that first inspired me though were not made for the kitchen. I spent years working with custom makers, most of whom were making beautiful and collectible folding knives, fixed blade knives and even bali-song knives. Their designs, their craftsmanship, their respect for the materials and tools themselves never ceased to amaze me. I began to discover not only chef knives within this world, but other handcrafted and small-batch culinary utensils like titanium chopsticks, spatulas and sporks, and it soon became clear that I needed to assemble these tools into a collection and give them the respect they deserved. And Eatingtools was born!

Tomer: What eating tools do you use every day? were any of them completely new to your routine before you got them and what was it about them that made them take over something else.

Abe: During a typical day I use the usual; a fork, spoon, knife, chopsticks… I do have a bit of an obsession with chopsticks. In addition to offering on Eatingtools what I’m pretty sure is the largest selection of high-end and handmade chopsticks anywhere, I have a personal collection that includes some beauties. I’ve eaten with them since I was a child (my mom ate almost everything with chopsticks, and still does), and I love the delicate precision and versatility they offer.

While I wouldn’t say that any one tool has changed my routine, by gaining an appreciation for selecting the right tools for a dish, if only ‘this spoon instead of that spoon,’ the eating experience has often been impacted immensely for me by making it a more holistic experience. The utensil, the dish, the napkin and the rest all contribute to the experience… but along with the food itself the eating tool is the only object that we grasp throughout the meal and that enters our mouth with each bite. Certainly the most intimate of ‘tools.’

TiStix

Tomer: There is a lot being said about the maker or designer-maker movement in the last few years, it’s really not a new thing by now but it’s probably at it’s peak. Correct me if you think i’m wrong. Back when I graduated from Design school (which was only 4 years ago) it wasn’t something that product designers were supposed to do, At least not in Israel, It was considered outside the definition of the profession. Now things have changed drastically, do you feel a change in the design quality of today's products as opposed to a few years back? What is the “style” now and what do people seem to want or react to best?

Abe: With that rather sudden influx of “designer-maker” objects hitting the market across so many disciplines and industries, I agree that in addition to certain markets simply becoming saturated in a short period of time, the speed has also provided for a sort of interesting and fast-moving market research that we can all analyze and benefit from, and therefore further accelerates the speed of the movement. That has, in turn, helped the trend-setters hone in on what people want quite quickly and allowed them to eliminate the rest. Which means overall design quality has increased, in my opinion. I would say that in many niches, including culinary tools, the style most makers are gravitating toward is one that involves classic and trusted designs and object profiles, which are then created with a modern, contemporary twist, whether through production methods, materials selection, and/or unique design improvements. It’s also worth mentioning here that as designer-maker centric markets becomes saturated, the non-tangible elements of a product; it’s story, the story of its designer, the origin of its materials, etc.; hold more and more importance in the consumer’s purchase decision.

Tomer: Having “The internet” around in the last couple of decades made it possible for makers and retailers to reach greater audiences and also learn from each other. Can you describe the development of the knife-making world over these past years?

Abe: I agree, the internet has had a monumental effect. The knowledge held by large companies has always found a way to spread far and wide, but with the internet the experiences and skills of makers, craftspeople and artisans can be shared also. I’ve watched the internet provide technical training through information, and equally as important, motivation through community, to countless makers who may never have had the opportunity otherwise. The internet is also what has made it possible for me to curate the collection of products from not just my home country and from people who speak the same languages I do, but from incredible makers around the world. Like you!

Tomer: How do you see the future of handmade goods? Do you see more use of technology and machinery like CNC and laser cutting with small producers now that these are becoming more affordable and easy to use? Do you see it as a good thing? Do you see a need for change at all?

Abe: I think there will always be an ebb and flow. The appetite of consumers for designer-maker products (and their stories) will mean more technology and machinery in order to keep costs down and meet demand, while the influx of machine-produced products will encourage others to go back to the basics and hone new techniques and styles by hand. It’s a cycle. So yes, the use of technology is a great thing! When the process is managed not by managers but by the designer-maker who truly cares about his or her product, the quality can easily remain at a level that fulfills the wants of the consumer while keeping costs in check at the same time.  

Crescent Brass Pincers

Tomer: Do you think that the abundance of makers today has a positive or negative effect on the knife industry? Do you see any effects in what larger knife companies are doing today?

Abe: I generally believe ‘the more the merrier.’ I think the more passion, the more perspectives, the bigger variety of work that is produced in a given industry, the better for everyone in the long term.

As for the effect on the larger knife companies, it’s still early to say I think. Eventually there will be some changes, perhaps partnering more with small designers, releasing limited edition knives, etc., but for now, there are some classic designs from some very old and well respected manufacturers that are likely to stand the test of time, and I think that’s great. Plus, it makes what we do that much more special!

Tomer:What are the hopes and dreams for Eatingtools for the future and do you have anything special going on?

Abe: We want to continue to be regarded as a trusted source for the world’s finest and most unique culinary tools. To not grow too quickly and to develop real relationships with makers whose ethos we respect and believe in is very important to me and is an approach that is key to our future success. We also plan to pursue more products, like our TiStix chopsticks and Crescent Brass Pincers, that we produce ourselves in collaboration with the artists we work with. And who knows, maybe we’ll have a retail shop some day so that you can come chat, have a coffee, and handle these extraordinary tools in person!

Tomer: Thank you buddy! Looking forward to seeing who/what you find next.

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