L’Émouleur Lames d’Exception: Fine Japanese knives
L’Émouleur Lames d’Exception offers the highest quality Japanese knives in Montreal. Here’s a profile of a shop with exceptional products, and an owner who is both fascinating and fascinated.
“What I like most about cooking is the cutting. I’m fascinated by knives, I love it!”
There’s something inspiring about talking with people who are passionate about their craft. We interview a lot of people in the hospitality industry, but this is the first time we’ve heard someone so excited about a knife. Guillaume de l’Isle is a microbiologist by training and definitely didn’t think he would make a living selling high-end Japanese knives. Guillaume started selling knives a little over 10 years ago, and quickly became interested in the best knife sharpening techniques, which he found to be “by hand, with water, and on Japanese stones”.
Guillaume knocks on the doors of great restaurants to offer his sharpening services, “my first client was Pied de Cochon.” Then he was referred to Le Toqué, Joe Beef, and elsewhere; he made about 50 restaurant clients. “And somehow, I got my hands on their knives! (laughs).” Guillaume knows what chefs prefer: Japanese knives. One day Charles-Antoine Crête asked him to import Japanese knives for him. Guillaume managed to find Japanese suppliers who would provide such items; he began importing knives for top chefs and selling them on a small scale. Then the demand increased, and he thought of opening a store.
L’Émouleur Lames d’Exception
In 2009, he opened his store on Laurier Avenue West where he offers a selection of over 200 exceptional Japanese knives, ranging in price from $200 to $6000 (!) a knife. “Almost every restaurant now uses my knives; at least one cook in every kitchen has one. They all come through here.” Guillaume has also built a clientele of food enthusiasts and art lovers with his unique and exceptional products. Walking into his store is a bit like entering an art gallery; his products are very impressive and his passion is contagious.
Guillaume explains that what is most important is the finesse of the steel of his Japanese knives. Finesse that is very difficult to reproduce, among other things because of the hardness of hand-forged steel. The practice has existed for thousands of years in Japan, particularly for the manufacturing of Japanese swords. “They are works of art!” Every knife is different, so is the material of every handle. Some blades are steel folded several times, and sold in very small quantities; it’s very impressive. “Now that it’s been five years, I have some advantages, most of my blades are engraved ‘Fait au Japon'” especially for Guillaume!
Theft of the century
On April 28, 2015, Guillaume had all the knives in his store stolen; he lost $200,000 worth of knives. “What hurt me the most was not the money for the knives, so much as the sentimental value I had for them. It takes me up to 3 years to get many of them, they are very crafted and very special and sourcing them is difficult! It made me very sad.” And when you see the video of the thief, the man throws them in a trash can like they are nothing; it makes your heart ache. “Some people in the media helped me, and the police officers were amazing in this story. Three weeks later, they recovered 70 percent of my stock.” However, all the equipment was damaged and Guillaume had to have all his recovered knives repaired. He is still waiting for the insurance money.
The best part
Guillaume’s favourite part of his job is having people slice food when they come into his store: “Even those who don’t want to, when they slice with my knives are very surprised! They open their eyes and go, ‘WOW!’ (laughs) In the near future, I’m going to put a camera in to capture their reaction. Not many people know the pleasure of slicing, because they have never touched such knives, never had access to such sharp knives. And 99.9% of my customers are happy with their purchase so I have to say it’s very rewarding.”
We fell for one of his knives not long ago; an incredible object. The L’Émouleur Lames d’Exception store is open Thursday through Sunday from 11am-5pm. Appointments are possible on other days. You should stop by!
Written by Élise Tastet