The Craftsman: Issue n.016 — August 2019

Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter
7 min readAug 21, 2019

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“You don’t want to be the best at what you do, you want to be the only one.” — Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead

It’s never too late to become a craftsman

There’s a common belief that by our mid-twenties we should know what we want to do with the rest of our lives. While finding your calling early might be true for some, most of us make early decisions we rather not question later, only to feel remorse about the “what if’s” we’ve left behind.

Today’s first story is about someone who found his calling into craftsmanship in his forties and is giving it everything he’s got to make it happen.

The rest of this issue is about things that caught my attention, and a small tweak I’m making to take one of my daily routines on the road.

Tony Mitchell, Dojima Sake Brewery. Photo: Gianfranco Chicco

Tony Mitchell’s Path Into Sake Craftsmanship

The Fordham Abbey is and idilicc estate in the outskirts of Cambridge (UK), and the home of the Dojima Sake Brewery. The Hashimoto family, with a long heritage of sake brewing in Japan, has created this place to act as the spiritual home of sake abroad and a cultural bridge between Japan and the UK.

One of the key figures at the brewery is Londoner Tony Mitchell (pictured), who’s working as production manager and toji-in-training (the toji is the sake brewer). Tony first encountered sake — properly known as nihonshu — in its typical 1.8 litre magnum bottles in the mid-90s during a stint teaching English in the Japanese countryside, but things got serious in 2011. His Japanese wife had relatives who owned a sake brewery near Fukuoka, and they offered him to work with them for a three-and-a-half month long brewing season.

“For me it was like a semi-religious experience. I really felt there was this high force looking after me in that brewery. I also realised that [after that experience] I couldn’t go back to do an office job.”

What seemed like a temporary hobby turned into an obsession, one Mitchell’s wife was dead against because of the brutally hard work and low salary that characterises life as a brewer. He had to promise her to get a proper job, for which the couple moved to Tokyo, so that Tony could work at the British Embassy for a few years. But deep inside he knew that at some stage he’d go back to be a brewer, or regret it for the rest of his life.

Via his work at the embassy and pure happenstance, Tony came in touch with the Hashimoto family, who had started planning the opening of the Dojima Brewery, and from there things moved quickly. Tony and his wife eventually moved back to the UK, and May 1st, 2017 was his first day at the new job. In retrospect, the time spent at the brewery in Fukuoka a few years prior ended up being a great foundation into the humility and hard work required to make good sake.

Together with the Master Toji, who regularly flies in and out from Japan, and one assistant, Dojima Brewery has already produced 8 runs of sake, and the results are incredible. There’s a saying in the sake world: “wajo ryoshu”, Harmony Brews Good Sake.

Dojima brews two main types of high quality sake, one made specifically for ageing, using only polished rice and yeast from Japan, and local water. After tasting them both, and to my astonishment, I was informed that each bottle is priced at 1,000 £, and the catch is that you can’t even buy it straight away. To have access to these precious drinks you have to join the brewery in an analogous way to England’s famous members’ clubs. Fordham Abbey’s grade II listed Georgian Manor House from the 1700’s features rooms for private events and soon will have an adjacent space for potters and other craftsmen to work from, and a farmers market.

I find Tony’s story incredibly inspiring. He was 45 y.o. when he worked at the brewery in Fukuoka and now, at 51, he’s wholeheartedly following his dream (and making really good sake).

Dojima Sake Brewery
Fordham Abbey 39 Newmarket Road,
Fordham, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 5LL
United Kingdom

Image: Netflix

Netflix’s Blown Away: Reality Television Applied to Glassmaking

I’ve never been a fan of TV reality shows but I decided to check out Netflix’s Blown Away because the idea of bringing together a bunch of glassblowers — a craft that I’ve always admired — to compete against each other seemed both ridiculous and brilliant.

10 craftspeople from different backgrounds, 6 men and 4 women, ranging from the novice 22y.o. to the 57y.o. with 30 year’s experience, are challenged to design, create, and present original pieces of glass art in order to win a 60,000 dollar prize and a residency at the Corning Museum of Glass.

The competition requires making a variety of different objects like lamps, glasses and decanters, and other more conceptual pieces. At the end of each challenge, the host, a resident evaluator, and a different guest evaluator for each episode, review the work through three criteria — technical skill, response to creative brief, creative bravery — to crown one winner and kick-out one participant.

While the show has a cliched narration and constraints the production of work to just a few hours, it’s visually beautiful and offers a great primer into glassblowing tools and techniques. With each episode being merely 25 minutes long and tightly edited, the watching experience is smooth and slightly addictive (I went through the first 5 out of 10 episodes in one sitting).

Watch the trailer:

Photo: Solidwool

Solidwool Hembury Chair

Justin and Hannah Floyd are the husband and wife team behind Solidwool, an innovative composite material made out of wool and bio-resins. It all started as a project to reinvigorate a town in Devon (UK) that once had a thriving woollen industry.

Their signature product is the Solidwool Hembury Chair (pictured), which offers classic looks and a comfortable seat. They will be going into production soon, which is capped at 500 units and with less than 80 slots left. If you want one, then act soon. Delivery is planned from September 2019 onwards.

Order here:


Lee Hollingworth, Story Deli. Photo: Gianfranco Chicco

Story Deli Organic Pizza, London

Although Story Deli has direct street access and a huge front window, you’d probably overlook it if you weren’t specifically after it. Lee (Hollingworth) runs the kitchen, while Anne — a fashion photography producer — is in charge of the front of house. If you encountered them in a different context you might think they’re a rock couple from the 70s, say Yes’ Jon Anderson and Joni Mitchell, and they definitely carry that rock-rebel spirit into their pizza adventure.

The place is small and homey, with a big shared table and a few smaller ones on the side. The distressed and charming space looks straight out from a design magazine. You don’t come here in search for Neapolitan-style pizza but for wafer-thin pies with an eclectic mix of well paired organic ingredients, topped with fresh salad leaves sparkled with olive oil and thick balsamic vinegar. Lee’s pizzas look great and they taste even better!

Story Deli
515 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9BU
United Kingdom
+44 7918 197352‬

Note: Cash Only

Travel shiboridashi and cup by Viter Ceramics. Photo: Gianfranco Chicco

My Roving Tea Ritual

A recurrent issue with being a frequent traveller is that I have to part with my daily rituals and practices. One of them is preparing and drinking good tea. To address this, and over the next few months, I’ll be carrying my own shiboridashi (a kind of small teapot, pictured) and cup, a tiny electronic scale, and good quality tea.

The shiboridashi and cup are made by Ivan from Viter Ceramics, and are protected in a soft padded cloth bag made by Raneta at Care for Teaware. See more photos of this combo here.




  • Workshop Podcast: Earl of East // Courier Magazine’s Daniel Giacopelli interviews Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin, co-founders of Earl of East, which started as a market stall selling scented candles and has become an international lifestyle brand.



  • Sinestesia Olfativa, the first exhibition of the Perfume Museum (in Spanish): Interactive olfactory exhibition in Mexico City. Until 9 February 2020.
  • A Taste of Cockpit Arts: Cockpit Arts is holding an informal evening for makers interested in applying for a place at its studios in London. 18 September 2019.
  • designjunction 2019: London’s most exciting creative quarter, Kings Cross, N1C will play host to cutting-edge designers, breakthrough brands, an unrivalled talks programme and unique design experiences. 199–22 September 2019.

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Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter

Curator of The Craftsman Newsletter. Conference director for hire, digital-physical experiences, marketing & storytelling. Japanophile. ✌