Titi, meanwhile, still has a cheat sheet in his truck, as he still considers himself a beginner. “It’s like when you just get your driving license. You don’t know how to drive yet.” He tries to make up for his relative lack of experience with humor and some goodwill gestures, like giving first time customers 20 percent off. Titi also adds a Band-Aid on the knives once he’s done reviving them. “It’s also a symbol to tell them, ‘Your knives really to cut now.’”
Individual knife grinders have different methods for deciding when the job is done. For Marius, it’s all about touch. He never works with gloves. “As more and more people rediscover the art of cooking with TV shows, a lot of people ask me advice about what type of knives they should buy. I just recommend that they pick them with their own hands. You should never choose them from catalogs or online.” Before returning the knives to their owners, Titi makes clear cuts on a sheet of paper.
Michel Vassout, a retired knife sharpener who used to be the only one in the southwest suburbs of Paris, still works the grindstone in a small shop near his home, sharpening garden tools. “I started this job when I was 15,” the 65-year-old says. After handing over his customer base to another knife sharpener, he became disillusioned. “People—even carpenters I used to work with—buy equipment they quickly throw away once they’re done with it.”
“This profession is not disappearing!” argues Henri Amblés, also known as Philogène GagnePetit on a blog about rémouleurs that he’s run since 2007. A former industrial draftsman and part-time volunteer in a cultural center, Amblés became fascinated with knife grinding when he produced a movie and a book about the subject more than thirty years ago. Now retired, Amblés fills his days buying everything related to knife sharpening. So far he’s amassed around 2,000 documents, mostly old pictures and posters and aggregating newspaper articles about new entrants. Henri Amblés has also written about Marius and Titi on his blog.
When Titi opened his business in September he gave himself a deadline of Christmas to determine whether or not this professional adventure was for the long run. Now that December has arrived, he’s not giving up. “I still don’t have a profit by the end of the month,” Titi says, “but it’s because I prefer buying new tools.”
As for Marius, he plans to open franchises in Lyon, Marseille, and Geneva where his daughter lives. He’s also regularly in touch with his former teacher, who is training a new generation of rémouleurs. “People now wait at least three months to get a spot in his class,” Marius says.