After primitive man discovered heat could separate metal from ore, he learned to melt metal and then cast the hot, liquid metal in molds to create three dimensional shapes.
Globally, casting remains a basic method of shaping metal.
Telling FIT students that casting is similar to
making a jello-mold or ‘Creepy Crawlers’,
they understood immediately.
Casting quality cooking pots necessitates avoiding and eliminating impurities in the hot metal and grinding away and polishing surface pitting. Iron cookware is usually cast and some aluminum and copper cookware is cast.
A current line of highly polished aluminum cookware is marketed as ‘sand-cast’, an ancient technique that adds character to the metal finish. Metal handles and knobs are often cast of different metal than the pots—to perform as heat breakers.
The most common technology for producing aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans is called drawing ( also stamping). The equipment to create three-dimensional shapes is highly capital intensive and involves making heavy, positive and negative steel dies.
At one of the factories I visited, pre-cut flat shapes of metal are pressed with great pressure between positive and negative dies (inside and outside shapes) that stretch the metal to assume the shape and depth of the dies. Complex shapes as domed lids, spouts and lids with deep sides usually require more than one set of dies and stamping procedures.
Metal is brittle so it must be annealed before drawing.
Annealing means heating metal to ‘relax’ it—to avoid splitting.
The heavier and thicker the gauge of metal,
the heavier and more costly are the required dies and stamping machinery.
Despite the cost, production is fast; uniformity is perfect.
At a renowned Italian factory where cook and serveware for hotels and restaurants as well as international retail markets is designed and made, master chefs collaborated with factory metal experts to produce excellent cookware for the gourmet market.
The master chefs offered “knowledge of the different ways
food passes from raw to the cooked state in order to achieve
gastronomic and nutritional correctness”.
The result is a complete cookware collection of copper,
aluminum, stainless steel and iron. Each metal —assigned
to shapes appropriate for its designated cooking function.
Copper sauce pans are lined with stainless steel and some add a thin layer of aluminum as a bonding agent. Frying and sauté pans are black iron and a black iron casserole is enameled. Continuity of handle and lid designs unifies the collection. This atypical approach to cookware reminds me of Julia Child’s kitchen peg board of diverse pots and pans—currently on display at the Smithsonian.
A very large inventory of flat copper, aluminum, stainless steel and iron is organized by gauge and awaits transformation into diverse shapes of cook and serve-wares. Metal rods become handles as well as seals for joined edges of metal. Sheet stock is rapidly cut into disks by steel die while rolls of lighter gauged metal pass under a die that moves up and down chopping and spewing circular discs of steel in one direction while passing cut scrap in the other. All scrap is recovered and reprocessed in the metal foundry.
Skilled craftsmen solder spouts, make and affix handles and a myriad of other skills and techniques proving quality cookware production is capital and labor intensive. Costly technology for some products enables speed of production: an example of ‘economies of scale’ that make products more affordable.
Finished wares are taken to the finishing department
where small items are tumbled with pellets of
polishing agents to reduce possibility of sharp edges.
Larger cookware shapes are polished, one piece at a time, using various fabrications and polishing agents. Copper pans are polished as at home —with elbow grease! Each piece of cookware is washed, dried, inspected and boxed for international markets —where they’re destined to become hard-working heirlooms.
After witnessing nuances of quality production in several renowned factories and researching opinions of international master chefs, I’m convinced:
Good quality pots and pans are timeless investments.
They not only cook and serve well,
they’ll outlast the gas and electric stoves that provide their ‘heat’.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
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