Florentine’s finest steel

06 Dec 2016
6 min read
What started as a university project has no become a roaring success within the restaurant industry and beyond…FOUR speaks to the brains behind the hottest knives around, Tomer Botner of Florentine Kitchen Knives.

How did you find your way into producing high-end cutlery?

After 4 long years of product design studies at the Shenkar school of Art, Engineering and Design In Tel-Aviv something truly terrible happened. I failed my first attempt at graduating. This experience shook me to the core. I was either going to give up or come back even harder. It made me really focus. Instead of being overly conceptual, I decided to concentrate on something concrete and true to my life and love – cooking. I picked the tool which most fascinated me – the knife. I had a real fire in my bones and a will to prove myself. So I put my head down and worked as hard as I ever had during that year. I read, I watched, I listened and most of all I made knives, I can’t even remember how many knives I made in the first few months of the project. I did everything in my power that year to make it to graduation day with a final knife that performs and handles the way I wanted. Needless to say, I graduated that year, and laid the groundwork for what would become FKK. Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It’s not the fact that I can now feed my family doing something I love, it’s the fact that I know the value of failure and I will never be afraid of it again. Incidentally, I recently found out that my grandmother’s maiden name was Messerschmidt which is literally “knifemaker” in German so I may have just come to it genetically…

Can you tell me a bit about how FKK came to be?

I happened to be documenting my whole design process through my tumblr blog and my Instagram account. I was lucky because Instagram was very young at the time and my posts caught their attention. Even though IG only had 5.5 million followers then, once they put up a post about me in their feed, everything changed. Overnight I went from simply being happy to graduate from college to receiving 100 orders in one day. All of the sudden I needed to build a business and start making knives in volume. I learned a lot in a very short amount of time. I made countless mistakes but I had some lucky breaks too. After I launched a successful Crowdfunding campaign to finance the process, I managed to get very good knives out to the people who ordered them.

How would you describe Florentine Kitchen Knives to those who have never experienced them?

Today there are a lot of great knives out there. The whole gastronomy industry is booming. People are really appreciating good food – in restaurants and at home. I can say that at FKK we try to think of everything and manage to give our clients a custom knife experience at the price point of a larger scale production knife. This means we really use the best steels possible and we hold our heat treating process in high regard. We make sure that everything that needs to be rounded and polished and balanced is done without compromise. All the knives are assembled and finished by hand. Each one is a little bit different by design, so everyone who orders an FKK knife receives a truly unique product. When you come to evaluate something you take in account many things. I think a tool needs to be looked at and evaluated as a whole. This includes the design, the work that goes into it, the materials used, the quality of work, it’s inspiration, where it comes from, and the story behind it. All these things change the way you feel about something.

Where do you get your inspiration for the design of the knives?

My design reflects not only where I am now, but also where I come from. Florentine is actually the name of the neighbourhood in Tel-Aviv where I lived while I was designing my first knives in design school. This place, and Israel in general, is such a confluence of cultures and ideas from all over the world that in theory, it shouldn’t function very well. And yet in Florentine, all these differences just work together. I love this idea, and I often mix design elements that usually don’t go together but in the end, simply work.

How closely do you work with restaurants, or chefs, when designing a kitchen knife?

For custom designs I dive as deeply into my client’s world as I can. I visit the restaurant and the area, eat the food, and note all the little details that make up the whole. I try and get to the origin of what they represent and where they come from. I try to capture this essence while maintaining the core elements that make FKK what it is. My first custom design client was a little restaurant in Antwerp, Belgium that was still in construction at that time. Owned by chefs Sergio Herman and Nick Bril, “The Jane” is now a 2 Michelin star restaurant and in the world top 100 list. Over the course of almost a full year, I visited the building site, and had many meetings, meals and conversations with Sergio, Nick and the entire team. This process made us close friends and helped me understand both the vision of the restaurant and the people behind it. It also gave me a foundational understanding of how restaurants and chefs at this level think and operate. The quality of curation and attention to detail which goes into places like this is really incredible. I like to think FKK managed to contribute to enhance the dining experience at The Jane. This is always our ultimate goal, whether we are working for one of the world’s top restaurants, or for a foodie at home.

Where and how do you source the products and materials?

We try to keep everything in our production process as local as possible. Part of the reason I moved to Europe was the fact that Israel is basically an island in which everything has to be flown into and out of. There are barely any local metal or wood industries to support ours. Now being based in Spain, we are able to source almost everything inside Iberia, usually no farther than a few hours drive. In most cases, like wood and leather, we get it around the corner. Quite a lot of my time these days is invested in finding materials and meeting the craftsmen around us. This process always inspires me to arrive at new ideas and designs.

How important is it to you that you support local craftsmen?

I think it’s very important to support any craftsman or woman, not just locally. If what they are making is a part of human culture and knowledge which you think is worthy of preserving, then it makes sense that you support it. Humanity has lost so much knowledge throughout history. Don’t you think this knowledge would better our lives today, or at least better our understanding of ourselves and the world around us? We need to make sure we don’t lose more in the name of making things faster and cheaper.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on quite a few different projects right now. For instance, I currently have the honor of working with one of Europe’s finest chefs – Christian Bau. He and his team are pushing us to find new solutions and materials. This is leading us to create something entirely new and different.

We are also working on producing pre-orders for the new Florentine Three knives. I am very proud of our latest limited edition line and i’m very much looking forward to the reactions of our clients. This year we came back a bit to the original design I made during my engineering and design studies, which was long anticipated by many of our clients. This is a rocking knife, strictly western, with a stocky frame but beautiful curves at 200mm long over 57mm at it’s widest point.

For the first time ever, we are able to offer our latest line in 3 types of steel – our usual and favoured 14c28n stainless, a much loved Carbon steel option with the 52100, and finally an entirely new 410/52100 welded and rolled just for us by NJSB in the US. This last option has a carbon core sandwiched between two stainless steel clads and what we can do with it is simply beautiful. On each of these blades we offer 2 types of handles – wood and leather or mixed materials. This now gives us 6 different options to choose from in limited edition format.

We also hope to open a shop in Barcelona before the end of the year so people can come and feel the knives for themselves. I am very much looking forward to this personal interaction with our customers and to offer our support and knowledge in person.

Find out more about Florentine Kitchen Knives here |florentinekitchenknives.com