Using responsibly-sourced materials to create properly unique kitchen knives, Bernard Caille of Nottingham Knifeworks is helping to raise people’s cooking game while raising awareness for sustainable living…
How did Nottingham Knifeworks come about?
I wanted to do something more creative. My day job just didn’t offer me that. Why knives? Well, many years ago I trained in blacksmithing and metal work. I grew up in France and the education system took me in that direction, but after training I came to England, and never got a chance to use these skills. 35 years later, I decided to do something completely different, and Nottingham Knifeworks was born.
How do you create your knives?
A knife must be functional, so that’s where I start. It is a tool that needs to do a job and do it brilliantly. One of my other passions is cooking, so I know how important a good knife is. I think about the aesthetics, the flowing lines, the feel of it. Since making my first knife a year ago, I have refined my designs and now settled on one that I really like. Having said that, I love to experiment, and sometimes I’m asked to create a knife with bespoke specifications; I love a challenge and doing something different.
Where did this passion for cooking come from initially?
I grew up on a farm, so the understanding and respect of produce was always at the heart of our daily lives. I did enjoy spending time in my mother’s or grandmother's kitchen, where I marvelled at the alchemy that is cooking. I arrived in London in the late eighties and worked as a waiter in a French restaurant - and that’s where I properly picked up the cooking bug. The food scene in the capital was going through a revolution and I was lucky enough to eat some amazing food.
How does your knowledge of and passion in the kitchen inform your process and your products?
I try to make knives that are as user-friendly as possible. So many of my customers tell me that my knife has become their go-to knife for all cooking. That’s a great compliment. A knife needs to feel comfortable in the hand, not too heavy but just enough weight to cut through those ingredients with ease. I love to cook simple but tasty food. A basic tomato sauce can become delicious with good ingredients and seasoning. I use the same principle when making a knife.
My latest venture is using old denim jeans to create a durable and different-looking handle. When you decide to recycle, you realise that you can make almost anything work
You use some pretty unique materials - recently you’ve done some exciting stuff with denim, and you’ve always got some cool wood knocking about. Can you tell me a bit about how all these materials complement your knives?
My latest venture is using old denim jeans to create an incredibly durable and very different-looking handle. When you decide to recycle, you realise that you can make almost anything work. There are some amazing recycled materials out there, like Smile Plastics and PaperStone, that are normally used for surface design but lend themselves incredibly well to other applications. A lot of trial and error is involved in this process, not everything works and looks amazing. As for wood, I occasionally use local walnut and am currently trialling some spalted beech.
You have a real focus on sustainability when making your knives. Tell us more about that…
Key for me are the materials I use – both in terms of sustainability and durability. I love being creative with the materials I source or make. The steel is from Sheffield, less than fifty miles away, and is up to 95% recycled. The plastic handles are 100% recycled material. The wood from the vines I use in some of my designs, I literally pick from the discarded pile in the vineyard, every time I go to France. Other wood I use is from Nottinghamshire.
What’s your favourite material to work with and why?
PaperStone is the easiest to work with, it’s made from recycled paper and a natural resin and looks really cool. My favourite is old vine and resin, which is the hardest and most demanding to get right, but the results are incredible. It looks fantastic and is durable. No two handles made with old vine will ever be the same.
What does the future look like for Nottingham Knifeworks?
I’m not aiming for mass production. I am a one man band, so production is limited. Working efficiently and honing my skills are goals for the next twelve months. Learning new techniques and refining designs is what I love. Every knife has its own geometry and purpose, each one is unique. Creating something that someone else enjoys using is what gets me up in the morning.
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