The Good Shepherd Ministries, located at 412 Queen Street East, runs the largest meals program in the city of Toronto. Designed to serve a daily clientele of 750 , the Good Shepherd’s kitchen now serves over 1100 hot meals a day. Everyone is welcome and staff and volunteers work hard to provide a warm and nurturing place where people can get fed, find a sympathetic ear, and be connected to housing, health, recovery and spiritual resources.
Today, I visited the Good Shepherd to sharpen their knives. I knew they’d have a lot of them, and I had visions of powering through with my snazzy new Shapton stones, piling up mountains of super-sharp cutlery in no time flat. I expected some of the knives to need a few repairs, a tip here, a chip there. I wasn’t prepared for what awaited.
I was shown my workspace and set up my stones, and out came the knives. Well, we’ll call them knives. They were metal, stick-shaped, had handles that were (mostly) attached, and were recognizable as cutting tools only because one side was marginally thinner that the other. Where I had imagined a few tip ‘n’ chip repairs, I found that almost none of the knives had a tip at all, and that many had chips that would take hours of work to erase. Some were absolutely hopeless, like the yellow handled one in the picture that has a “chip” in it three inches long and two deep, like a bite from the Cookie Monster. Almost everything was the cheapest kind of bargain-basement stainless steel, the kind that feels like plastic on a whetstone and just doesn’t have the carbides to take any kind of real edge. This, I thought, was going to be a challenge.
As I began to work, I began to triage the knives I had been given into those I could make workable right away, those that would need long repairs, and those that were ready for the Great Block in the Sky. I had just over an hour before the dining room where I was working would open for meal service, so there was no time to waste. Concentrating on the Chef and large utility knives, I wet down the small double-sided DMT coarse / extra-coarse plate I keep in my kit for flattening and cleaning and started cutting bevels on it in a hurry. I soon developed a routine: form a burr on both sides using the extra-coarse side of the plate, flip to the coarse side, spend a few minutes taming down the extra-coarse scratches, then sharpen a rough working edge on the Shapton 1000 grit Glass Stone. I had been asked not to make the knives too sharp, as the Centre has a large group of volunteers who might not know how to handle a really sharp edge, so I concentrated on getting as many blades as possible into what I would consider at least usable condition. Too soon, the time came to clean up, but at least I got 6 knives rebevelled, tipped, and into rough cutting shape. I’ll be back next week to sharpen some more, and to bring in some of the knives that have been sitting in my knife block unused for too long. My goal is to have every (salvageable) knife in the place done in time to make Thanksgiving dinner.
Now, I love knives. If I had my way, I’d need an extra kitchen just to house my knife blocks. I can spend hours browsing knife sites and ebay vendors. I know I’ll keep accumulating cutlery because it’s what I do and it’s what I enjoy. But the next time I find myself thinking “ooooh, I have one of those, but only in white steel, not in blue. I need the blue one,” I’m going to remember how the staff and volunteers of the Good Shepherd fed 1100 people a day using blunt metal sticks. Perspective. Sometimes it whacks you over the head.
For more information, to volunteer or to make a donation, please see the Good Shepherd’s web page at www.goodshepherd.ca or call 416-869-3619 ext. 277.
If you are a shelter, hostel, community kitchen or other charity that feeds hungry people in Toronto, I will sharpen your knives for free.
Please contact me to arrange a kitchen visit.