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In search of the perfect pan

Obsessed cooks can never resist the lauded excellence of the ’new’ perfect pan. For the first time in at least 50 years cooks are looking to the past in search of perfect pans for induction cooking.

As a professional cook of some 38 years letting go of my very expensive, and still perfect stainless steel stockpots and pans has been hard. Hardest of all to let go of, my super expensive copper pans lugged back as hand luggage from E.Dehillerinè the most seductive shop, in the whole of Paris for a cook. Those were the days, when they didn’t weigh your hand luggage!!! I do remember being barely able to lift the Longchampsè bag from the ground to stagger onto the flight under its weight. Blessing, at the same time, Longchamps for their superb workmanship in making a bag that could withstand the weight without spilling my hidden treasure onto the tarmac.

The history of the cooking pan is long and interesting and the choice of a pan for a professional cook is a very personal thing. The weight, the feel in the hand, the evenness of heat (usually defines the quality of a pan or pot). Pans and knives are personal things for a professional cook. Most professional cooks, when forced to answer truthfully, will own a couple of non–stick pans, but they are generally an embarrassment to the professional. Perfectly seasoned steel, cast iron and quality heavy based stainless steel and copper pans have long been the respected choice of the professional cook looking for longevity.

When Tefal launched the first non–stick pan in France in 1956 non–stick was taken on with great enthusiasm by commercial and domestic cooks alike. At the same time Australian domestic cooks mainly cooked in low quality aluminum cookware that had been an innovation in the early 40s. It only functioned with any success on gas cooking and food burned easily. Non–stick failed to burn, stick or dent, but, sadly their arrival meant that many superb cast iron and steel pans that would have easily seen another century of cooking were cast out in the name of progress. In the 40s Aluminum cookware was the height of fashion and modernity…but it did not take long for cooks to realise that it reacted with some acidic foods in particular eggs, artichokes and asparagus. It fell further out of favour in 1965 when it was wrongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. It was not until many years later in the late 80s that this was disproved. Aluminum cookware came on the scene in the early 1900s and stayed there, mainly in the domestic kitchen of the middle and lower class until the late 50s when non–stick and stainless steel cookware pushed them out of the market. Interestingly professional cooks stayed with steel, cast iron and copper and never found a love for aluminum.

Professional cooks quickly realised the shortcomings of non–stick. It doesn’t matter if you buy a pan or a cake tin the non–stick properties have a short life and in punishing commercial circumstances quickly become obsolete. Non–stick has none of the staying power of properly seasoned steel or cast iron pans. When I opened Mistress Augustine’s in Adelaide in 1981 my exquisite massive ribbed cast iron grill pan was over 100 years old and had belonged to my great, great grandmother. It is a matter of true regret that I used it in my commercial kitchen. A ’dishie’, not understanding how cast iron works, ran cold water onto the red hot pan to cool it down and cracked it cleanly in half.

The rise and rise of induction, to the point where professional cooks are now designing totally induction kitchens has professional and domestic cooks replacing their cookware for the induction savvy. In the very near future, you can expect op shops to be loaded with beautiful stainless steel cookware, obsolete only because it will not work on induction.

I am 69 in November and have pans and cookware that belonged to my great grandmother. My French steel pans are at least 45 years old and perfectly seasoned…nothing ever sticks to them. Some of these pans have survived the introduction of heralded innovative cookware to outlast new fashions by, as much as, 100 years.

Fifteen years ago if you had suggested to a professional cook that they would discard gas for induction cooking they would have laughed at you. Refined and honed, with some exceptional improvements in the last two years induction has become the preferred cooking of most professionals. It is unlikely that we will see gas cooking in any intelligently designed commercial or domestic kitchen in the future. This revolution has been led in Australia by chefs Neil Perry and Tetsuya Wakoda who started working with Electrolux at the development stage at least 20 years ago.

The latest induction cooktops are intuitive̾settings, once plugged in you can move the cooking vessel anywhere on the cooking surface and the settings automatically move with the vessel. In other words, induction cooking is no longer restricted to a specific plate or cooking surface size. It is currently rather pricey, but, it is new technology and that dollar ticket has already dropped significantly since it first became available in 2014. Waterless induction woks have been a huge innovation. They are not only environmentally sound; they save a fortune in water in a commercial kitchen.

About sixteen months ago Mark Henry turned up on my doorstep with a medium sized wok made from a single sheet of steel and a short while later I received another three pans for my inspection, two sauteuse and a crepe pan. Since that time my pans have become treasured, to the point, where I find it hard to share them with other, less careful cooks.

Mark Henry is a successful eccentric…a brave entrepreneur, who, having sold a very successful Australian business, Füri Knives to the international culinary world, took a small break, moved his family to France where they now live, and took on the insane project of creating the perfect pan. Haven’t cooks been in search of the perfect pan since the cooking vessel’s inception? But in truth he has created exquisite pans with provenance in his Solid Teknics range…pans, that looked after with proper and respectful care will be passed from generation to generation. Most importantly they will cook perfectly…work on induction, electric or gas.

I love that, now perfectly seasoned, when sautéeing I can keep searing meat without losing heat with a simple quick wipe of the pan with a damp cloth. I love that pre heating the pan allows me the perfect pencil thin line of seal, that when rested gives me the perfection I am always aiming for with a rare steak. Equally the crepe pan just keeps going and you can work quickly because there is so little loss of heat between each crepe. The only down side, if it can be considered a down side, is that I need to purchase another two so that I can work three pans and bang out 50 crepes in a matter of minutes.

The sauteuse has the perfect inner curve that allows a cook to roll the food in the pan without using utensils to stir and the same can be said for the wok. If there is any criticism of these pans at all, it is that a wok twice the size would be brilliant. From a professional point of view, whilst it works very well, and is very useful on a number of scores, it is only large enough for two small stir–fried serves. I always remind cooks that in a commercial Chinese or Asian kitchen chefs will be cooking one to maybe two serves at a time. Watching home cooks try to make stir–fry for a family of six in an average sized wok always reminds me, that although this cooking vessel has become the mainstay of the Australian home kitchen, very few know how it works properly.

It is important to understand the degree of difficulty in the manufacture of these pans….the complexity in keeping the steel at an even depth throughout the pan, from its leading edge to its inner centre is a manufacturing nightmare..one, that possibly a less adventurous entrepreneur would never have tackled.

These pans have been embraced by professional cooks around the globe, but in many instances the food press have failed to grasp the importance of these pans. Conscientious professional cooks get these pans. Properly cared for they are good, even in a commercial kitchen for many years, in fact generations, but mst importantly, their even heat transference is what all cooks dream of.

Yes, I love them, and no, you can’t borrow mine to see how good they are! Buy your own!

Ann Oliver
Food Editor and Publisher Galaxy Guides

Reviewing Policy
We have the policy of paying for equipment begging our opinion…on the basis that how can you constructively assess a product if it is gifted to you…the reviewer in our opinion is immediately compromised.

Stockists
http://www.solidteknics.com

Further Reading
Consider the Fork
A History of How We Cook and Eat
Bee Wilson
Published by www.basicbooks.com


As an Australian chef the most exciting thing about these brilliant pans is, that, they are made in Australia!

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Ann Oliver
food-editor@galaxyguides.com

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