The AUSfonte (TM) pan development story
More AUSfonte™ background detail from Mark Henry, SOLIDTEKNICS founder and development engineer
Why launch yet another pan in a crowded cookware market, particularly cast iron, when there are so many good quality traditional pans already out there?
Because I believe bare seasoned cast iron has some serious cooking and health advantages over all others, and I’ve never found a really advanced cast iron pan which combined the best of everything.
We all know the American traditional thick cast iron skillets. They are a wonderful part of history, and bulletproof, but tend to be sharp-cornered and heavy, with rough cooking surface and handles far too short, hot and uncomfortable. The big French enamel cast iron brands have had a long and strong history. While not being ‘cutting edge’ in technology now, and the enamel needing some care to avoid scratching and chipping, they are the best quality Dutch ovens available, great for any slow cooking, and they are simply gorgeous. You can also trust the materials used in French and American-made pans to be free from heavy metals.
However, like way back before I started my first chef knife company, when I see the big old brands only talking about hundreds of years of tradition (or color choices for enamel), that’s when I know it’s time to do something more interesting…….so I got to thinking……
What if I adapted the classic French sauteuse pan shape, but improved the handle design, and utilized the great heat retention qualities of cast iron to create a new international high-performance pan from this venerable old material? And could it actually be made in Australia?
Then, even if we did invest all that time and money in development, would enough cooks be interested in our ultimate vision of cast iron pans to make AUSfonte™ viable and real?
Well, after a lot of really long and hard work bringing our dream pan to life, we found out on Kickstarter that there was a LOT of support out there! We are forever grateful for all the support from our backers on Kickstarter and also all the food media who got behind us (click here to see some of the articles) and helped spread the word.
Thank you all again: you made this new Australian cookware industry real!
THE NITTY GRITTY
Shapely sauteuse pan: a French Classic.
Throughout my experience developing products for chefs in France, I’ve always loved their attention to great equipment, as a natural extension of their focus on great food. A Classic is their Lyonnaise style sauteuse pans which are like a high-walled sauté pan, but broader and more curvy. In French, ‘sauteuse’ is the feminine version of ‘sauté’ (really)! They are in every restaurant in France and these are their workhorse of pans (usually made from pressed carbon steel or ductile iron sheet). I have retained that body shape because it is great for cooking everything, and particularly high heat searing and tossing......and a sauteuse is always best for the sauté!
LOVE HANDLES – getting a grip on simple, ergonomic pan handle design
When I was designing my Füri knives in the 1990s, I went against tradition by completely flipping the wedge shape of the handle to thicken towards the blade (opposite to the traditional shapes derived from swordsmiths around the 13th century) so it would offer resistance against forward thrust and reduce hand fatigue.
In a similar fashion, it makes much more sense to me to have a pan handle match the location of forces on the hand: slightly rounded underneath where your fingers take half the weight, and rounded on top at the back where the ball of your hand takes the other half of the weight. A long handle can also be gripped with two hands for the really tough jobs, or wedged under the forearm to divide the weight again.
Then there’s a (much underestimated) need to counter rotational forces. The wide ‘neck’ and large flat love heart on the end of the handle are actually very intentional engineering features to radically improve rotational grip performance (round handles are a problem for chefs), with maximum comfort.
In addition, AUSfonte™ handles have a large cut-out neck area, where the handle connects to the pan, contributing to a cooler handle. Heat is not transferred far up the handle when used on the stove. (Of course, if you use the pan inside the oven, it will be too hot to handle without hand protection.) The cut out area also cuts down on weight, with the two structural ‘beams’ being engineered to be as strong and light as possible (much stronger than a single round handle of similar cross-sectional area).
‘AUSfonte™: the cookware with Love Handles!’
Cast Iron: the benefits are….cast in iron
I chose cast iron as the material for the pan because I love the way it heats evenly after it reaches temperature, then retains heat. I have strived to not make it too thick, which can mean it can be too slow to regulate temperature. Cast iron is famous among chefs as the best material for searing: creating a 'fond' and browning food like no other. Seasoned bare cast iron is also trusted at any cooking temperature, with no synthetic coatings to worry about.
Apart from superior heating, casting the whole pan as one solid piece avoids fragile joined handles and plastics. Unless someone does something really crazy, our AUSfonte™ pans will last for hundreds of years.
Read our blog post on the historical and new benefits of cast iron here.
Don't be a seasoning chicken!
AUSfonte™ ‘Tough Love’ cast iron pans are cast from clean Australian iron, with no synthetic nonstick coatings whatsoever.
However, to get you started our pans do come lightly pre-seasoned. This means that the bare cast iron (which will rust if left exposed to the elements) has been correctly coated with foodsafe oil and heated at high temperature at the foundry to create a ‘seasoning' barrier which protects the iron from rust and makes it 'low-stick'.
You should add to and maintain this completely non toxic protective coating simply through regular use or, better still, you can add seasoning layers to the pan yourself right from the start.
Remember: the more you use cast iron, the better and more non-stick the seasoning will become until it is the best low-maintenance and safe coating available....outstripping (so to speak) all the polymer concoctions thrown at pans by the chemical giants. Best of all, unlike regular nonstick pans, you won't need to throw away your pan in a few years' time when the coating wears off: it will just get better and better. This is renewable nonstick, not disposable!
It's way easier than it sounds, once you've seen it, so watch our quick 1 minute video overview:
What is so special about the AUSfonte pan cooking surface?
After a LOT of study and experimentation we finally arrived at what we believe is the best all-round cast iron pan surface, and the method of achieving it:
- Early prototypes were left 'as-cast' then seasoned. Too rough and a bit 'clingy' to food: beautiful, but a bit rough.....
- We tried machining with a vertical CNC mill. Too smooth: seasoning wouldn't stick.
- Next we tried lots of vibration with heavy metal lumps, like all the other manufacturers. Not bad, and efficient for production, but no better than all the other bare cast iron pans on the market today and not as smooth as we wanted.
- What we really wanted was what all the cast iron pan enthusiasts in the USA were talking about: the same smooth surface as the antique hand-sanded pans. They're paying a premium for those old pans because they are more nonstick than modern rough production cast iron pans.
I wanted a similar finish for our AUSfonte™ pans - a premium surface for a premium high performance pan. So we started chasing that goal in earnest. Many prototypes (and sanding discs, machines, etc) later, we've arrived at the perfect combination of porosity (to grip the seasoning) and smoothness (to not grip the food). And it hurts. It's manual disc-sanding (though with a special disc). It's mostly just expensive Australian elbow grease:
And the cooking results speak for themselves. Safe and awesome nonstick without synthetic nonstick coatings, on clean Australian iron.
Yes, it costs us a lot more to semi-manually sand each of the AUSfonte™ pan interiors, but we always wanted to achieve clearly the best bare cast iron pan in the world, not the cheapest.
I have always wanted to come back to real Australian manufacturing, though we all know that is not an easy thing, particularly in the highly competitive kitchenware industry. Do you know how much professional cookware is made in Australia?
Yes: zero, apart from us.
We’re up against a lot of cheap imports at the bottom end made from some very questionable materials, some very high quality enamel traditional/old brands at the top end, and well-heeled importers of Teflon, ceramic and many synthetic 'fad-coated' pans.
We’re not interested in cheap, or fashion; we’re interested in the best cookware. Not close to the best, or even second best. THE best.
So if you believe $20 import cast iron pans are better value, for you, than well-engineered, Australian made pans from clean Australian iron, then you really shouldn't be reading this.....you should be reading this: the FAQ I wrote for people who think a $20 import pan is better value.
We are only going forward with this new Australian-made AUSfonte™ pan launch because we believe we are launching the best cast iron pan ever made.....
Too bold a statement for an Australian engineer, manufacturing in Australia? If you think so, please don’t buy our AUSfonte™ pans. That’s the whole point: we don’t want purchasers of our product, we want backers of our vision for a whole new category of cast iron cookware, a revival of innovative Australian manufacturing, and a vision for more responsible and SOLID business that is looking forward generations, not just quarters.
Cast iron production foundry
The selection process for manufacturers was necessarily long and careful, and we believe we have the best possible foundry for production cast iron pans in Australia, or anywhere.
There are other good foundries, but not all are suitable for production cookware (which is relatively fragile, when most foundries are set up for manhole covers or larger industrial castings). Most use slow and expensive manual moulding/casting, but we needed automation to achieve competitive pricing for our customers.
Control of the composition of the iron melt was a vital parameter, particularly when offering bare pans. Our foundry uses state of the art crucible composition monitoring and logging to guarantee our strict specifications for clean and safe pan material.
We can't disclose exactly who our foundry is, but you can trust me when I say they are absolutely world class in every aspect, including their people, processes, machinery....and I've visited very good foundries in Europe and USA. Evidence enough is their 70% proportion of revenues from export, making castings for other highly competitive industries.
They hadn't made cast iron cookware before us, but I've shown them how, and with your support we will turn AUSfonte™ pans into a range, a brand, a business, and a major new domestic and export industry for Australia. So this project is bigger than me, or SOLIDTEKNICS: like a lot of Australian (and most first world) manufacturing, foundries in Australia have been shutting at a rapid rate, and with the local auto industry's spiral toward extinction, they need all the diversity of product they can get.
Mark J. Henry
SOLIDTEKNICS founder and development engineer