Chinatown’s New ‘Ai & Om’ Is A Chef’s Paradise Of Highly Crafted Sharp-Edged Tools

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by Andrew Morrison | I spend a lot of time in the kitchen so I’m a bit of a sucker for a good knife. In the past, I’ve had to get my sharp-edged jollies from online catalogues and travels to J.B. Prince in New York. But now Vancouver has a couple of new options for the knife fetishist, namely the newly opened Knifewear on Main Street and chef Douglas Chang’s little Ai & Om, which launched last week in Chinatown. We described it thus when it was under construction in May:

Vancouver cooks of every stripe – be they amateur, professional, or utterly hopeless – will soon have a chef-owned knife store to call on for all their edged-tool needs. Located at 129 East Pender Street in the heart of Chinatown, Ai & Om is being launched by chef Douglas Chang (formerly Bambudda, Sai Woo). His passion for hand-crafted Japanese knives is decades old, kindled in tutelage by a master of the art when he was a young chef de partie in New York.

Chang has had a side business hand-sharpening knives for local chefs for quite some time now. He’s well-liked by his peers in the trade, and his ability to refresh blades is well known. To give it a name and some brick and mortar is the next step for him, and I expect he’ll see a lot of white-jacketed support out of the gate.

Ai & Om (translates as “Love & Care”) will pull double duty as a retail store featuring roughly 20 different lines of knives (from mostly Japanese blacksmiths) and as a clinic for sick knives in need of love and care. He also aims to offer classes and workshops down the road, and expand his retail selection to include things like natural ceramics and such. Helping him put it all together and source fine products are good friends Olivia Go and Ivan Fonseca from Tosho Knife Arts in Toronto.

Chang took possession of the 900 sqft space last month and is looking to have it finished at some point this summer. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s going to look like. It’s a fantastic location, directly across from New Town Bakery (by way of my favourite crosswalk in the city). Local firm Scott & Scott Architects is doing the design (see also Bestie, Torafuku) while Milltown Contracting is on execution (see also Wildebeest, Farmer’s Apprentice).

I snuck a peek shortly after the paper came off the windows last week, and thought you’d like to have a look too. Aside from the dizzying assortment of Japanese knives, there’s some really cool ancillary stuff in there, everything from oyster shuckers and antler-handled blades to cutting boards, sharpening stones, and a couple of truly gorgeous Takeda axes. Plus there’s chef Chang himself, ever-present at his old school hand-sharpening station, doing his crafty thing. Whether you’re a home cook or a pro, be sure to check it out this week, and say hi for us!

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