Working in kitchens across Olympia and Denver, Mareko knows firsthand just how tough cooking environments can be. “Not having to fight the tool so you can get the work done and make the meal is half the battle,” shares Mareko.
Mareko’s first foray into the culinary world began at 21 when he began working at the Fish Tale Brew Pub just after they remodeled and were expanding the brewery. Like a lot of people in the food industry, Mareko started in the dish pits, working his way up to prep cook before working on the line.
“I had a ton of jobs before I got into food … I’d say over 20 by the time I was 24,” laughs Mareko. “I had a tendency to get bored pretty quickly and wanted to move on to learning something new.” In the kitchen at Fish Tale, Mareko found that he really loved cooking, but not so much working in an intense and confined environment. It’s also where he met Bob Kramer, a local knife maker. This pivotal meeting would ultimately change the trajectory of Mareko’s life.
“It's always a trip to think back on how the smallest choices and decisions you make influence where you are now,” he recalls. “I didn't know what I was doing with my life. I was half-heartedly working on an unfinished AA at South Puget Sound Community College, and I wondered where I was going. I had no idea what a bladesmith was, but Bob’s life experiences appealed to me. He’d traveled the world, at one point he was a clown, and now he owned his own business.”
Mareko met with Bob hoping that he might perhaps impart some wisdom to help him kickstart a different direction. After sharing each other’s stories, Bob offered Mareko an opportunity to work in his shop. No promises, no guarantees upfront, just an opportunity extended for him to give it a try. His apprenticeship with Bob began with sweeping floors, cleaning, and organizing the shop. After he proved he could be trusted with the basics, Bob gave him more hours, and soon he was giving his two weeks’ notice to Fish Tale.
Mareko soon moved into production and was helping Bob prepare handles for blades, then eventually sculpting handles, grinding blades, and learning to make the Damascus (a process that involves melding two different types of steel into a singular design).
“I learned a ton and it was an invaluable experience, but for me it was still ‘just a job’,” he recalls, until he had another pivotal experience that would confirm his decision to make knife making his calling.
One of Bob’s customers was a surgeon who enjoyed cooking at home as his primary way to relax, and he relied on Bob’s high-performance knives to enhance that process. After receiving a knife that both Bob and Mareko had built, he sent them some feedback, expressing how the contouring of the handle, specifically, made the knife feel like a natural extension of his hand.
“That was the first time I’d gotten any feedback about my work, and it really made an impact on how I thought about my work,” says Mareko.
Working in kitchens, Markeo was no stranger to culinary knives. He began keeping journals, drawing sketches, and taking notes on how he might design his own signature chef’s knife. He was making culinary knives at Bob’s, but they weren’t his idea of what a culinary knife could be.