In the Dolomites, sits the tiny alpine village of Giustino, which dates back to prehistoric times. There, the Maestranzi family had been sharpening blades for neighboring villages for centuries, passing the craft from generation to generation.
A true "moleta," or knife sharpener, knows to how to "see" the edge with his fingers. Even with practice, they say, "you either have it you don't." Today, many of the more than 100 commercial knife sharpeners in America hailed from Giustino and the valley it sits in, Val di Rendena. The Monumento al Moleta sits in neighboring Pinzolo today as a tribute to the generations of sharpeners who inhabited the villages of the valley.
In 1923, at the age of eleven, my Nonno,("grandfather") Theodore Maestranzi, journeyed to America and settled in Chicago with his older brother, John, where they sharpened knives on a horse-drawn wagon in the Stock Yards, Chicago's meatpacking district. Wake-up time was at 3 AM when it was time to break the ice on the horse's water bucket. Eventually, all of my Nonno's brothers immigrated to the U.S. and worked together as the five "Maestranzi Brothers" where they expanded their knife sharpening routes across all of Chicago and its suburbs, where it is still owned and operated by our cousins today.
My dad, Ernie, came along in 1954 and began working in the shop at the age of nine. (Definitely no helicopter parenting going on back then!) By the age of sixteen, he was a master craftsman and was known for having one of the best edges in Chicago. He learned to get the blades as "sharp as a razor!" he used to tell me and would shave a little hair off his arm to prove it. In his early thirties, he branched off of the family business and started Illinois Cutlery, deciding he wasn't going to just sharpen knives, he was going to make them as well- a Moleta selling blades to Moleta, it had never been done before.
When word got out about his knives in the cutlery leasing industry, Illinois Cutlery quickly became the blade of choice for professional chefs and butchers across the country. He began planning for a retail collection and we had packaged thousands of blades and displays to go out for a 1998 supermarket retail launch when his factory caught fire and burned down, destroying all of the inventory and equipment. Now, over twenty years later, I am so proud to be partnering with my dad to bring back hand-finished artisanal cutlery, keeping our family tradition alive; because no one can put an edge on a knife like my dad.
For me, food is love. I feel like we work and we move and we go, but when we sit down together at the table, everything stops and life slows for a spell. And it begins with plants in the earth, people to eat with, and a good, sharp blade. Generations Cutlery has been in the makings in my heart for years but it took me until now to finally convince my dad to get back to it. We're working on our very first hand-finished collection for 2020, "The Revival Collection," that will harken back to the antique European knives our family used for centuries, having an antique-inspired look and feel but the with ergonomic ease of today, and of course, my dad's famous "sharp as a razor" edge.
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