Leslieville Lives: Stories from the ‘Ville – Jordan Tam
Meet Jordan. I knew of Jordan Tam from the occasional post I’d seen about knife sharpening on a few Leslieville Facebook pages, but I didn’t have an interest in or need for the service, so would skim past. It wasn’t until I met him at a Leslieville Supper Club one night back in the late summer/fall that I put a face to the name. ‘Ah, yes…you’re the knife guy’. Several dinner clubs later and a few hours in his world I discovered he was much more.
Born the youngest of 5, Jordan is a Leslievillian through and through. He went to Morse St. Public School, Queen Alexandra Sr. PS and Riverdale Collegiate before ‘sneaking into Ryerson’ as he humbly puts it. But before Computer Sciences was a reality at the then Polytechnic, Jordan took 4 years off after high school and did everything from working the bar circuit to repairing bikes (which he still does) to working with his dad, the King of the kitchen, at Toronto’s famous Sai Woo restaurant, on Dundas W. Chinatown, back in its heyday; the 60s & 70s. ‘Dad’s philosophy was: Give that child the biggest freaking knife he can handle. He’ll be safer that way, now and forever, learning kitchen skills.’ Thus began his addiction to creating the quintessential meal and it’s precursor, the kitchen blade.
When he did finally get to Ryerson, his career was sidetracked by love and he became a father in his early 20s. And two more times after that. Now in their early 20s, he describes his daughter and 2 sons as ‘pragmatic, fit, intelligent, daring young souls’. No doubt. Jordan himself is a captivating composite of artistic, scientific, sporty, intellectual and, as I can attest to, traditionalist.
When I arrive at his house I caution him not to shake my right hand as I’m suffering arm pain from a neck issue. He immediately reaches for a tin with Chinese script on it and proceeds to unravel what looks like snakeskin and says, ‘Take a seat. This will be good for that’. He heats the strip up on the BBQ, and then unravels the hot menthol bandage onto my arm, with explicit instructions to ‘not remove til Tuesday’. I listen. He’s the kind of person you listen to, engaged.
When he’s not sharpening knives for countless chefs and homeowners in the neighbourhood and beyond, Jordan works full time as a Computer Programmer at the LCBO, modifies cycles and motorbikes, stays in shape and centred with hot yoga, dines out on good food (‘I don’t do mediocre’), has a passion for charcuterie & preserves, manages to see his kids & mom regularly a-n-d teaches race car performance driving part-time.
As a ‘try anything once’ kinda guy, Jordan took up an offer to try performance racing when he was a student at Ryerson but wasn’t thrilled with the instruction. He went to the head of the Club, Ian Law, with his feelings on the subject. ‘Is that so?’ said Ian. On a conditional deal, Ian offered Jordan an opportunity to become an instructor after a few more courses – on the house, if he proved his mettle. It’s been a love of his ever since. ‘It’s not every day you get to drive $500K cars FAST, with the owners in the passenger seat’, he grins. A Cheshire cat kind of grin. Although he doesn’t teach as often now, he remains great friends with Ian to this day. He also has the highest confidence about his kid’s driving habits. He’s been giving them lessons out on the race track since the ripe old ages of … 12, 13 & 15. His parenting skills are unique and philosophical. Among the list was this gem. ‘Think 3 seconds before saying, 3 minutes before doing and 3 days preparing; for class/exams/life choices/career path etc.’
His philosophy about knife sharpening is slightly different. ‘Here’s my pay scale. $1 an inch. Got a really big one it’s gonna cost ya a lot more’. Yeah, he’s funny too.
It is actually his son, Jupiter (a nickname borne of his large planetary shape while in utero), who is responsible for his now Facebook notoriety. Bored on a rainy November night in 2012, Jordan took to sharpening all his kitchen knives, and when his son came in, the conversation went like this:
Son: ‘Dad, Why are you sharpening knives that are already sharp?’
Jordan: ‘Yeah, maybe so, but they are NOT scalpel sharp!’
Son: ‘Arrrgh, not every knife has to be a scalpel, man.’
Jordan: ‘Yeah, the butter knives and spoons are in the cutlery buckets over there. 😉 ‘
Son: ‘Why don’t you slap up a FB post and sharpen OTHER people’s knives, so we can have gourmet pizza more often?’
Jordan: ‘You’re right. Again’.
And the rest is history. Since his humble beginnings, Jordan has devised a clever approach to how he conducts the actual business. Of course he has. It’s the ‘Shop & Drop’. He shows me how it all works and just as I’m thinking to myself, ‘Hmm, what if people catch on to where his clients are dropping the knives and the money’, he says ‘Oh, and the Shop & Drop is never in the same place twice. I have to communicate that,’ and smiles wryly.
Jordan is on FB and invites anyone with a dull knife/ves (of any size) to contact him. Trust me. They’re sharp. He demonstrated the leg shave for me.