Designer Tomer Botner launched Florentine Kitchen Knives in 2012. Named after the Floretin neighborhood in Tel-Aviv, where it began, the brand is known for its “stacked handled” custom blades, which are popping up in some of the culinary world’s top restaurants and kitchens.
Botner opened his first workshop and retail space in Barcelona in 2018, and lately he’s been fielding orders for bespoke blades from around the globe. I recently spoke with Botner about his knife-making process, the challenges of the pandemic, and his go-to knife-handling techniques. Here’s how he stays sharp.
Florentine’s blades and handles are certainly eye-catching, but I have to ask an age-old question: Why are these knives different from all other knives?
Tomer Botner: For most of our customers, our knives are the first custom knives they’ve ever owned. Everything is made to order, mostly through our website. The prices are at the same level as high-end off-the-shelf production knives that come out of factories. From a design standpoint, we have a unique handle, and to some extent, a unique blade design. Above all, these are objects of desire, and we make our knives accordingly.
How did you first get into this business? Were you the kid who was always sharpening sticks into razor-sharp spears?
Tomer Botner: My love for these objects comes from cooking and not from the love of sharp pointy things, even though I always had had hunting and pocket knives. For me knives are tools. Some of them do very specific jobs and some are very utilitarian but the most important thing is performance and how they help you with your cooking. I spent almost a decade in and around kitchens and cooks and when I was about to start my final project in product design in college I picked kitchen knives. Overnight I had a decision to make — do I go for it or not? I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into but with the help of my family, friends and my life partner, Noam, we made it happen and made our first 100 knives about eight months later.
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How has the pandemic affected business? Everyone’s at home. I would assume that’s good for the knife industry.
Tomer Botner: Of course this whole thing is terrible and I think we would all settle for just a regular year or even a disappointing one if it meant all these millions of lives would still be with us. But along with the incredible things that humanity has done over this year, this situation made most of us figure out exactly what we want and don’t want. That means who we want to be with and who not, what we really care about and what not, and, to a lesser extent, what we need and don’t need at home. We’ve zeroed in on our priorities, and that includes our cooking equipment. A lot of people realized they have terrible knives that don’t inspire them to cook or at least make it fun. In short, business has been very good.
Who uses Florentine Kitchen Knives?
Tomer Botner: There are too many to mention here for sure. We are lucky to make knives for some of the world’s most famous and fascinating chefs and restaurants. Many of them with accolades and Michelin stars, and the like. Our first-ever collaboration on such a project was with Nick Bril and Sergio Herman for The Jane in Antwerp. We have since worked with chefs like Richard Ekkebus of Amber in Hong-Kong, David Barzilay of Lazy Bear in San Francisco, Christian Bau of three-Michelin-starred Victor’s fine dining in Germany, and Gordon Ramsay’s team at Lucky-Cat in London. Every time Jason Atherton shares a video from his home kitchen we get a lot of traffic on our website.
What’s the secret to keeping knives sharp and functional? Give us some basic tips on blade care.
Tomer Botner: Knife care is like most things care-related, you need a routine and some rules. Never put any knife in a dishwasher. Don’t let knives touch other knives since the hardened steel blades blunt each other’s edges. Always keep your knives clean, dry and away from humidity while stored. Never leave your knife soaking in liquid or in the sink and unless you plan to use it again in the next few minutes. You should hand wash and dry it as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the meal is over.
People are cutting themselves a lot during COVID since we’re all home slicing and dicing. Any safe handling techniques we should know about?
Tomer Botner: I guess I can compare a new custom knife to a new motorcycle. You need to test its limits but little by little. If you do it too quickly, you will probably get hurt. In general avoid testing the sharpness of your knives with your finger tips. That’s basic. But also, invest in good knives. You will use better knives more often and they will stay sharper than cheaper knives. Still, all knives get dull when used. Don’t work with dull knives as this is when you get hurt the most. Have them sharpened by a professional or learn how to do it well yourself.
Any other skills you have that rival your knife-making ability? Are you a juggler? A tennis player?
Tomer Botner: The short answer is, not really. Most of the free time I have I spend with my son, Lev, and my wife, Noam, who is also my business partner. We live far from the rest of our family and our longtime friends, who are back in Israel. So, except for developing parenting skills I haven’t developed many new ones in the past five years. However, I believe I am a better entrepreneur and businessman than a knife maker and I do enjoy cooking and baking.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.