Behind an unassuming doorway in Camperdown, which you can enter only after ringing a bell, hides Protooling, a knife store frequented by chefs from some of Sydney’s most celebrated restaurants. Behind the counters, illuminated display cases showcase what Sydney’s culinary crème de la crème are all there to see: one of the world’s finest collections of artisan Japanese knives.
“Chefs love Japanese knives for their high levels of performance,” owner Paul Tayar tells Broadsheet. His customers include chefs from restaurants such as Firedoor, Fred’s, Saint Peter, Ester and Sixpenny. “These knives are made with harder steel that allows them to be thinner and sharper, improving cutting performance and keeping their sharp edge for longer.”
Tayar’s relationships with some of the most renowned blacksmiths in Japan are key to his procurement of these expertly crafted knives. Though Tayar’s network of blacksmiths extends across Japan, he holds a particular fondness for a few in particular, among them a former sword-maker based in Nagano.
“Jiro is a humble and skilled craftsman who makes every element of his knives solo from his rural facility in the mountains,” Tayar says of the blacksmith, whose numbered knives are the object of obsession among chefs. “He only produces 10 or 12 a month, and his knives ooze soul; you can feel the time and energy that’s gone into each creation.”
Among Protooling’s regular customers is Firedoor’s Lennox Hastie, who believes Japanese knives offer the kind of nuanced personalisation and reliable performance his high-pressure kitchen demands.
“I love the personal craftsmanship that goes into each knife,” Hastie tells Broadsheet. “The Japanese are masters of their art, and the guys at Protooling are always really welcoming and down-to-earth, and willing to spend time finding a knife to suit.”
“Every chef – or home cook – has differing requirements,” says Tayar. “It’s about the feel, weight and balance of a knife, but there are also many micro points that we guide our clients through during the process: the steel, the grind, handles, finish, thickness and intended applications or cuisines [they’ll be used for] are a few areas we focus on.
“We stock thousands of knives for a reason; each has a nuance that will be more suited to some than others.”
Tayar also sells Japanese woodworking tools – the foundational products of his business, which started when he began importing them to help build his house in the Blue Mountains – and a growing Japanese food range, including soy sauces, ponzu and shichimi.
And while professional chefs can often be found inside, testing the weight of a new knife or having their existing blades carefully sharpened by Hiroko Kelly – one of the world’s only female traditional Japanese knife sharpeners – the opportunity to adopt one of these carefully honed works of art is open to almost anybody. Knives start at $80, and it’s possible to walk out of the store with a few prized additions to your knife roll, as well as a whetstone, for well under $500.
It’s a valuable investment, Tayar says, as a quality knife can transform the food a home cook creates in their kitchen.
“Cooking with a good knife makes the entire experience faster and more enjoyable. It even results in better tasting food – a simple carrot, cut thin with a high-performing blade, will taste better.”
16 Mallett Street, Camperdown
(02) 8021 7130
Tue to Sat 10am–5pm