Nobody understands the satisfaction of a perfect tool better than Patrick Maher of Blu Skillet Ironware. An artist with a 25 year history in blacksmithing and metalwork, he makes all his own tools. So when he and fellow artist Caryn Badgett met and started cooking together, it seemed only right that he create a little carbon steel skillet for them to use. You can still see that little skillet in their workshop - the acorn from which an exquisite artwork of a business has grown. Patrick and Caryn so enjoyed the satisfaction of taking an everyday object and making it beautiful, of making the very best tool for the job, and of cooking with their perfect pan, "it comes alive when you're frying with it', that they started making bigger pans and gifting them to friends. It soon became apparent that they had the beginnings of a business on their hands.
In 2013 they started selling the pans at Ballard Farmers' Market and at Urban Craft Uprising and after receiving national press accolades in Cook's Illustrated and Serious Eats, the business started to take off. Like true artists, Caryn and Patrick enjoyed handcrafting every aspect of their fledgling undertaking. They designed their logo and packaging and collaborated on every detail of their range of skillets, gratin dishes and stainless steel spoons. Patrick not only created custom tools to streamline pan production, but also built the wrapping table and even an in-workshop crane to life heavy loads. He takes care of forging all the pans, while Caryn, whose paintings reflect her love of texture, focuses on the detailed finishing work.
Nowadays they can't keep enough pans in stock. They make about a thousand pans a year which they sell through two big studio sales, one in spring and one just before the holidays, and one yearly online sale. Limited amounts of overflow stock are also available at their open studio events, held on the first Sunday of every month.
If you pick up one of their pans, you will understand why they are so sought after. Perfectly balanced, with a smooth, tactile finish they are lighter, stronger and less brittle than their cast iron cousins, and perfect for searing and quick frying. Their beautiful blue glow comes from a finishing heat treatment which will darken over time and season to a rich black patina. Unlike cast iron, where steel is heated until molten and then poured into molds, every single Blu Skillet pan is forged--heated until soft and then hammered into shape. Steel disks and rods are brought in from Everett Steel and the disk are roughly molded into a skillet shape. From there, they are repeatedly heated and hammered until a smooth even finish has been achieved. Then the handles go through a detailed step by step forging process culminating in the signature scroll at the end. Though simple, the pans are full of little details, from handmade rivets to a ridged join for strength, which mean that each one is small work of art. After Caryn has taken care of the finishing and the pans have been sent for a final sand-blasting and heat treatment, Patrick estimates that every pan will have gone through around thirty separate processes.
Caryn and Patrick have streamlined their business as much as possible, but both would much rather be immersed in the meditative details of pan production, than managing other people to make them. If you attend one of their open studio events, with artwork scattered throughout their workshop, it's obvious that the pans are yet another artistic endeavor into which they've poured their hearts. "We love the pans so much, " says Caryn. As a result it seems likely that demand will continue to outstrip supply. If you want to get your hands on one of these stunning yet practical works of art, created with so much love and attention to detail, then you should sign up for their mailing list or follow their Instagram and Facebook pages for details of their sales and limited edition specials such as Caryn's elegant handmade copper salt bowls, and be prepared to move fast. .
And if you want to witness art being created, head to one of their open studios to see this fascinating process in person. The next one is this Sunday, July 2nd.