On the road with Knifewear’s Kevin Kent

by Kevin Kent

Illustratiion by Pierre-Paul Pariseau
Illustratiion by Pierre-Paul Pariseau

The lights were thrown on. “Is there a doctor aboard this flight?”

I put my headphones back on, pulled the blanket up and went back to sleep.

I was excited for my homecoming to London. First time back in nine years. In the eight years I lived there it changed my life. I encountered a genius, learned about excellence, met my future, got hitched. I worked as a wine tour guide and tester, was the chef for Price Waterhouse Cooper’s executive dining rooms and fell into the sous chef role at Fergus Henderson’s St John Restaurant.
Did I mention I bought a Japanese knife?

The next time I opened my eyes the doctor was pulling a little old lady,wrapped in blankets, into one of the business class pod seats. She had obviously passed on the flight. That unfortunate happening had followed an aborted take-off complete with emergency braking. Then, upon landing, the police came onboard and arrested two people. For killing the old lady? We’ll never know. This was shaping up to be a proper bit of memorable travel.

All of this excitement and subsequent nine-hour delay caused us to miss our lunch reservation. Bummer. We had booked Margot Henderson’s resto Rochelle Canteen. The Henderson’s are the OH (original hipsters). I lived up the road for six years and was obsessed with the place—a Victorian building project around a bandstand right beside The City seemed to be brimming with opportunity. I could never understand why it hadn’t been snapped up by developers, hipsters, restaurateurs and the like. Well, in the nine years since I lived there all of those things have happened. Cool brands have moved in and Margot has opened Rochelle. The restaurant is as hip as can be, I understand, but I’ll have to take their word as we never did get in.

Every time I take a big trip I bring one staff member with me. It’s fun for me and eye-opening for them. Kent of Inglewood is our new line of men’s shave shops and Nathan is the manager of the shop in Calgary. We would be visiting suppliers for both stores over the next two weeks in London, Frankfurt and Stockholm. Shaving creams and potions, straight razor makers, safety razor makers, body soaps, combs, brushes, Japanese kitchen knives and, well, lots of cool stuff.

We consoled ourselves with a late dinner at St John Bread and Wine. This is Fergus’ second St John restaurant. La Gitana flowed as we enjoyed duck liver toast, Arbroath smokie and dandelion salad, the best bread in town and crispy pig skin with tarragon aioli. The food? Simple and brilliant. I love delicious and St John Bread and Wine delivered.

Of my St John team we’ve all done quite well. It really was amazing. If everyone strives for excellence and no one wants to be mediocre, you can do anything.

That place, that team, that time was a turning point for many of us. Tim owns a resto called Trullo that gets rave reviews and just signed a lease for another. Ben has Back Street Diner, a food truck in London slinging burgers, super delicious and very now in London. Lee is a regular on Vice TV, did a pop-up restaurant in Copenhagen during MADD last year called Black Axe Mangal and has signed a lease for a restaurant across the street from Trullo. Joao is the chef for the governor general of New Zealand. Justin changed the face of bread in London and, I hope, the world soon, and I have eight retail shops in Canada. Not to mention the gaffer himself, Fergus Henderson. He IS the most influential chef in the world right now. People will be cooking like him for many, many, many, years. But few will get it right.

Saturday morning brought us to Burough Market: Brindisa chorizo sausage on a bun, Gorwyynd Caerfilly, Comte—used to buy this every week from the cute girl there. Don’t tell my wife. Oh, and the cheese is delicious.
Best fish monger in London.

Cured sausage from South England (veal thyme and lemon, chorizo and fennel pork).

Mulled wine, pints of beer at Market Porter.

Pigeons, elk, fallow deer, rabbits all shot and for sale at the market. The English manage their land and have no shortage of these animals from over-hunting; in fact the landowners have lots of animals on their land because they plan for it. Not by feeding, but by providing habitat where the animals can thrive. Makes so much sense, why can’t we do it here?
Justin’s bakery. He made the bread for Will and Kate’s wedding. Not bad. Does classes too. He’s changed the way bread is made in London.

On the flight to Stockholm we discovered that we Canadians package our potato chips all wrong. On SAS we bought chips in a box. Slightly greasy, super crunchy and mostly whole slices. The box protects them from crushing and the shape makes for easier transport. Awesome. We bought another to show our appreciation for the slick design and maybe because the pre-flight pints of beer were kicking in. In Germany beer is water and everyone, even babies, drink it all day every day. This is a fact.

Aquavit, herring, beer, cream puffs, axes, cappuccino machines, cod’s roe, sour cream, reindeer, Stockholm.

Back in Frankfurt we managed a 22- hour delay. Don’t travel with me right now. I’m clearly cursed. Just call me Steve Martin. Planes, Trains and…

The flight home was the kind of flight you wish for. Smooth take off, no turbulence, no deaths, no arrests and a gentle landing, absolutely nothing to remember it by. Perfect.

Recovering chef Kevin Kent is the proprietor of Knifewear and Kent of Inglewood with locations in Edmonton Calgary, Kelowna and Ottawa.