Le Drool (as they say in Western Europe)

I’ve seen these before, hanging on a rack in the kitchen of a very shi-shi seafood place in New York. At the time, I did not realize what I was looking at, nor was I qualified to appreciate it.

I do not believe that they are that much better than normal cookware. There are limits to how smooth the surface can get, and how well it transmits heat, etc.

Shiny, right? That’s because it’s silver sheet welded onto copper. Then they hammer-form it and add a bronze handle that they sand-cast using their own bronze (i.e: scraps from the pan-making process). I have been interested in the whole topic of pan-making and have avoided it because I don’t have a forge that’s set up to evenly heat something that large; you need a coal forge or a specialized vertical forge. I have no idea how the welding is done; though Alex, French Guy, has been working on sauce-making in the vein of classic Escoffier-style French cooking – which means he started getting into the topic of sauce pans. The insane upper edge of sauce pans is these Turkish-made silver and copper artworks.

I appreciate them in the same way that I appreciate any other extreme engineering – a carbon-fiber spun manifold, a perfectly machined vintage Rolls Royce engine, a sword blade made from iron sand the maker dug out of their yard; that kind of thing. And, like most of the people who own those swords, or drive those Rolls Royces or Ferraris, there’s the question of whether they can use it to good effect or if they’re just poseurs with money to burn.

That’s what a $280 skillet looks like.

This brings me to the “argument from need” – a long-time topic of debate in my family. Our “pater familias”, my grandfather, raised a family of two in the middle of the great depression; he took any job that paid anything, because that was what he had to do. One time, he took a $0.35/day gig cleaning up a burned-out pig slaughterhouse when the Hormel plant in Minneapolis burned. Grandpa had an attitude about money: you do not waste money on fripperies like silver crepe pans. In fact, with apologies to all the chefs that buy them, or fancy $40,000 Bob Kramer damascus knives: you do not need these things. Proof: you can cook perfectly good crepes in a teflon or polished carbon steel pan. This is not a situation where machinist tolerances come into play, like building a jet engine, and nobody’s life depends on it. Besides, one can make an argument that a high carbon steel pan would be objectively better because the surface is not as delicate as the polished silver. Grandpa would say “you don’t need that” and the conversation was done, there was no second round and you certainly did not come back with “… but I want it.” Because grandpa would rightly crush you by pointing out that, if you wanted to burn money, there were plenty of people who needed help. I remember when, in the 70’s, designer jeans were the thing and my cousin bought a skintight pair of Jordache bell-bottoms and grandpa loaded her (and the jeans) into the car and took her to the store to return them.

I look back at grandpa and his attitude and I respect it but I also see it as maybe a touch of what we’d call post-traumatic stress disorder. The pressure on a traditional American male, to provide for his family through the depression, left huge marks on him – and through him, on my dad and the rest of us. My dad used to sometimes start to say, “you don’t need that” but then he’d stop halfway in and ask “is that how you want to spend your money?” A more complex and gentle trap, at least. I’m just thinking of this stuff because my first reaction when my friend Mike sent me the link to that site was, “well, I can afford a pan or two, why not?” There is still no good counter-argument to my grandpa’s ghost, who immediately shouted “you don’t need that!” It’s the sort of thing that makes billionaires like Betsy DeVos convince themselves that buying that 12th yacht is good because it’s putting money back into circulation in the economy. My grandfather was a gentle and thoughtful man, but if I had said, “Why not? It’d be putting money back into the economy!” I’m pretty sure he’d have driven me down to where the migrants hung out, looking for work, and started trying to find one who was interested in making a copper pan. He was full of lessons like that. Also, and I never did get it, he refused to read the directions for anything. I learned that bad habit from him, except I modified it: I’d see if I could assemble a thing without directions because – if I could – that meant it was well-designed, but I felt no shame checking the directions if I needed to, and always checked my work by reading the directions last. I have an ex-wife whose head used to nearly explode when I did that. [And, yes, the “ex-” part has a lot to do with my quirks and attitudes]

I still wrestle with these things. Back when I lived in Maryland, in my large house, I was making a lot of money and put some back into the economy by tearing a wall out of my kitchen and reconstructing it with firebrick so I could install a commercial Wolf 6-burner range. It was gorgeous, and threw a lot of heat (I like to sometimes sear things) but it was a professional’s tool – a serious amateur cook like me, using that to pan sear my scallops, was like the dotcom millionaire who buys a Ferrari and loses control of it pulling out of the parking lot. Yes, I know that guy. Anyhow, the cosmic joke was on me when I sold the house in 2000, to move to upstate Pennsylvania, and the lady who bought my house announced that she “loved it; she really needed to down-size because of her divorce and her staff was going to be much smaller so she needed someplace cute.” Cute. And she loved the stove and then said “too bad I can’t cook but it sure looks great.” I found myself wanting to say “you don’t need that!” about a stove that I didn’t need, either. I felt hoisted with my own petard.

This is just me free-associating about something beautiful that blind-sided me. I collect some small bits of art; I do have that particular vice. But I’m more likely to collect surface plates (I have several unused 24x18x3″ granite plates still in the crate in my store-room) but I have to admit that I’m less concerned with being humble than I am with appearing humble. That ghost won’t shut up.

I bet that after Alex’ video, sales will go through the roof. Good for them. I love it when artists are able to make beautiful things in this world of shit. But, yes, spending the money trying to promote green technology would be better.

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Obviously, the thing to do would be to try to make the ultimate pimped wok. But I’m not going to try; I have too many other projects in line ahead of that. Enough to keep me busy until I’m dead. I.e.: I don’t need it.

The “Western Europe” bit was a charming dig from the panmakers’ website – apparently they don’t think very highly of French cuisine or pans (admittedly, the Turks were eating great stuff while the French were still in the “roasting meat on a spit” stage of culinary development. Now, I am curious as to whether there are any good comparisons of, say, Seljuk cuisine versus European during the time of the crusades.


  1. flex says

    For the past half-dozen years I’ve been halfheartedly studying the history and culture of Al-Andalus. The 700-long occupation of the Moors in the Iberian peninsula. Well, I’ve got to do something with my free time.

    Some of the earliest western cookbooks are from this culture (I don’t know when cookbooks started to be written in the eastern cultures). In the introduction to one of the cookbooks I’ve read, the following story is told. I’ll have to paraphrase a story from one of them, because I don’t have it in front of me, but it went something like this:

    The chef to the Caliph was visiting friends and they asked how the chef was able to make a certain baked dish taste so wonderful when he made it, while their own cook’s version of the dish wasn’t very good at all. The famous chef said, “Send for your cook.” When the cook arrived, the chef said, “Bring me the pot you use to cook the dish.” The cook returned with the pot. The chef smelled the pot, and said, “Go scrub this with sand and bring it back.” So the cook scrubbed the pot with sand, while the chef continued to enjoy the games with his friends. When the pot had been scrubbed and presented for inspection, the chef sniffed it and said, “Do it again.” Three times the cook scrubbed the pot with sand. Then the chef smelled the pot and said, “Now scrub the pot with celery leaves.” This was done three times before the chef finally said, “Okay, now cook the dish as you normally do.”

    When the dish arrived, it was far better than what the cook has ever produced before. The chef said it was fit for the sultan.

    The chef explained to his friend, “Silvered pans and expensive cookware are no replacement for cleanliness. As long as the cook selects wholesome ingredients, prepares the food properly, and cleans their tools well, the meanest household can have food fit for the sultan.”


  2. says

    Have you seen this?
    How a Former Rocket Scientist Makes the Best Copper Pots in America — Handmade
    He has some silver lined pots on his website

    For me I just buy whats on sale at Marshall’s or HomeGoods, you can find some very nice factory seconds there with just a minor scrape or ding for a half of the price of a new one. I’ve picked up some very nice AllClad pots that way. No need to pay full price.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Seljuk cuisine versus European during the time of the crusades.

    Probably not. The Seljuks seem to have taken over the Persian Empire, the Levant and other real estate.

    My semi-educated guess is that you would want to be comparing perhaps Imperial Persian cuisine vs, let’s say that of Imperial Constantinople. Rachel Laudan’s book, Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History, may do that.

    European cuisine vs Middle Eastern/Central Asian is likely impossible to compare. Think of comparing Sicilian (heavily influenced by a 2-3C Muslim Caliphate with strong North African presence vs that of Samarkand, or Beirut vs Frankfurt. Even Toledo vs Paris.

    Or worse yet Norwegian luttefish vs Lebanese baklava.

  4. jrkrideau says

    Forgot, for an interesting Medieval cook book see How to milk an almond, stuff an egg, and armor a turnip: a thousand years of recipes by David Freidman & Elizabeth Cook.

  5. kestrel says

    Is this a matter of tools? I know that cheap flutes (for example) are what students use to learn to play. When they are a little more proficient, they use better flutes… and (speaking from experience) all at once that person feels like a musician, because suddenly they are way better – all due to the tool (flute) they are using being way better quality. Are super good chefs really able to use these to better cook food? I suppose it could be…

    I learned from grandparents as well, but a kind of opposite lesson. One ate a cereal he hated for his whole life, because it was really cheap. (Puffed rice.) Is it worth it to get up every morning of your life and eat something you hate, because it does not cost very much money, even though you can perfectly well afford to eat a cereal you like? I don’t know. And then there was my grandmother, who, every time she was given or managed to buy something really nice, would put it in the closet to save it “for good”. When she died her closets were absolutely stuffed with nice things she had saved just a little bit too long. All brand new, all never used, not even once.

    I certainly don’t cook well enough to warrant buying a pan like that. My pans are 20 years old so far. I reckon I’ll be using them until the day I die. I doubt the fancy pans would make a person cook better than they do normally, but if someone is already a really good cook, well, maybe that person could make a good use of these pans – which really are amazing and gorgeous. It is true that sterling silver distributes heat very thoroughly and very fast – although it seems incredible to me to use it as a cooking surface, they are sure right about that.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    Your musing about wealth reminds me of William Morris — the 19th century designer, not the model agency. One of the first socialists — some say he was the real model for Old Major in Animal Farm, rather than Marx. He was a fierce critic of 19th century industrialism and all forms of mass-produced art. His utopian novel “News from Nowhere” pretty much jettisons technology to imagine a paradise of socialist equality where garbage men could dress in cloth of gold if they felt like it.

    Because he hated mass-produced art so much, he produced hand-crafted items in his workshop, from furniture to wallpaper to books. Which, because they were all hand-crafted, were so ridiculously expensive that only the most wealthy could afford them, while the poor kept right on buying their mass-produced china dogs.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    Once, on a whim (I didn’t really need another knife), I bought a $50 carbon steel kitchen knife from Lee Valley. Turns out, I actually needed that knife because (other than the bread knife) I haven’t used any other knife in 25 years.

  8. cafebabe says

    As for reading directions … Back in the 60’s Tektronix’ oscilloscopes (vacuum tubes at the time, obviously) used to be delivered with a luggage tag right next to the mains plug. It showed a cartoon surgeon next in an operating theatre. In one hand he held a large saw, in the other an open book. The caption was “Read Manual Before Operating”. I did not have the foresight to knick one of those tags for posterity – and even the internet doesn’t seem to have an image. SAD!

  9. Badland says

    I feel your grandfather would have a few words to say about your nakiri (which, in feeble defense, we use every day).

    (And it’s still godsdamn gorgeous).

  10. Dunc says

    Diogenes the Cynic is said to have owned only a robe and a bowl, and to have thrown the bowl away after seeing a child drinking from his hands.

  11. says

    I would be too terrified to use such pretty pans. I snaffled my mothers enamelled cast iron frypans when she went into a nursing home. After 60+ years of constant use they still work as well as when new.

  12. says

    While there may be more than one way to circulate currency, if everyone in the US decided tomorrow to only buy what they need, the whole economy would collapse overnight and half the people in the country would be out of work. Ironically I suspect that attitude would create a severe depression of its own.

    The more interesting question is whether an economic system under which that point holds is a good idea in the first place. Which is entirely academic until someone comes up with a way to decide the shape of an economy.

  13. says

    Once, on a whim (I didn’t really need another knife), I bought a $50 carbon steel kitchen knife from Lee Valley. Turns out, I actually needed that knife because (other than the bread knife) I haven’t used any other knife in 25 years.

    Those are great knives.

  14. says

    Diogenes the Cynic is said to have owned only a robe and a bowl, and to have thrown the bowl away after seeing a child drinking from his hands.

    He probably didn’t need the robe, either.

  15. Reginald Selkirk says

    I bought my favorite kitchen knife at a garage sale 36 years ago. Vanadium stainless steel, it claims to be.

  16. jrkrideau says

    @ 7 chigau (違う)
    In many cases a more expensive kitchen utensil is nice and may make things easier but with knives it is well worth investing money. Friends of mine who cook professionally think nothing of spending $250 for a good chef’s knife.

    $50 twenty-five years ago sounds about right.

  17. cafebabe says

    @12 cvoinescu
    Wow, yes that is the exact one. Not exactly as I described it – but definitely the one, including the hole for the string that attached it to the power cable. Thanks for the link!

  18. dangerousbeans says

    They are beautiful pans. I also loved where they had their workshop, that was cool.

    $300 for something beautiful that you’ll use regularly and will last for the rest of your life seems reasonable. I know plenty of people who would spend $300 on booze in a month. If i were getting serious about making caramel i would get a copper sauce pan, although i don’t know about one of theirs.

  19. Jazzlet says

    i had a fried who would justify buying an expensive garment by considering how often she was likely to wear it, then calculate the cost per wear. Sometimes it meant she didn’t buy, sometimes that she did, but if she did she continued the process by redividing the cost by the number of actual wears each time she wore the garment, and refining her purchasing decisions accordingly. She had garments that had cost in the hundreds, that she had averaged down to less than 50p a wear. I adopted the process for clothes as well as other things, and have found it to be an effective way of making sure I am buying something I will use. Well most of the time, purchases of summer clothes tend to come a cropper because of our oh so variable summers, and sometimes I’m either just wrong or I just have to have something I know I won’t use often, but generally it helps. The other thing is making sure the reason especially clothes are expensive is because they haven’t been made with slave or near enough slave labour.

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