American Copper Pot Revival
Mac Kohler's first introduction to copper cookware stemmed from his affinity for cooking.
"For the longest time, cooking was really the only creative thing I did and do," he says. "I was given a gift of a copper paella pan at age 22."
Kohler recalls the impact the pan had on his cooking.
"I recognized that the heat simply met no resistance -- everything came out better. I was impressed immediately," he says. It wasn't long before he started a tin-lined copper cookware collection consisting of many pots and pans he and his wife, Karen, found on their travels to Europe when visiting her family.
"I had 26 pieces in my collection when I realized not one of them was American," he says. “Copper cookware hasn’t been made in America for over a generation.”
This realization led him to create Brooklyn Copper Cookware, a small artisan outfit founded in 2010, which has worked hard to resuscitate the craftsmanship of making copper pots in the United States.
"We are the only American copper manufacturer," Kohler says of his business. In addition, Kohler said there are currently only seven tinners in the U.S. "They are pretty much booked for months," he says.
The inspiration for the materials Brooklyn Copper Cookware uses -- tin-lined copper with cast iron handles, as well as their designs, came from many sources, including Julia child. Kohler was inspired by her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1961, from which he quoted:
“Copper pots are the most satisfactory of all to cook in, as they hold and spread the heat well and their tin lining does not discolor food. To get the full benefit of cooking in copper, the metal must be 1/8 inch thick, and the handle should be of heavy iron.”
Foodies make up most of Brooklyn Copper Cookware's fans, in addition to professional chefs who use the cookware in some restaurants across the United States.
"People who are very, very interested in, not only the quality of what they are eating, but getting better at what they can do with it," he says of his typical customer.
Kohler also points out the sustainability factor associated with copper cookware that users reap. He was struck by the extent of it when visiting Portugal where he saw four to five hundred year-old copper cookware on display in the kitchen of the Pena National Palace. He said the cookware is still used on special occasions.
“Planting the ideas of efficient, organically pure and renewable into the field of cookware is as important as selling the goods,” Kohler says.
Brooklyn Copper Cookware’s collection was sold exclusively online until Kohler established a collaborative relationship, last year, with modern furniture and home décor retailer, West Elm, to showcase and sell a saucepan designed exclusively for West Elm Market.
"It has clarified our direction and interest in working with small retailers," Kohler says of the experience with West Elm that has served as a testing ground.
Currently, Kohler’s business is going through a restructuring phase to enable him to keep up with the demand of his cookware.
"In the last four months we have cobbled together a new operational line that stretches from Brooklyn, where we are doing all of the design and where we are headquartered, to Ohio," he says, adding every vessel his company has made, thus far, is the singular effort of one coppersmith, one tinsmith and one ironsmith.
Kohler discussed the rarity of the craftsmanship currently available in the United States to make copper pots and pans.
"It is iron, copper and tin -- bringing that old timey tech together is not a given anymore in our manufacturing, or lack thereof, due to the economy -- the handwork required to do this kind of stuff isn't widely available anymore," he says.
For his new line, Kohler intends to purchase raw copper from some new, as yet to be determined, suppliers located in the Midwest. He will have it shipped directly to Ohio Metal Fabricating for production. Previously, the copper was purchased from Revere Copper Products in Rome, New York.
"They (Ohio Metal Fabricating) are a longtime spinner of soft metals and they have the kind of machinery that is set up to accommodate,” he says. “They have never done cookware before, but they are interested and eager. “
Previously, Kohler worked with Hammersmith fabricating shop in the Bushwick, neighborhood of Brooklyn, which acquired the Waldrow copper works, until the demands of production could no longer be met due to a variety of factors.
Hammersmith, which is owned by Jeff Herkes, specializes in architectural fabrication. When Kohler came across him at the start of his business, most of Herkes' experience with copper pots at the time was primarily limited to retinning them for chefs on occasion.
The fact that production will no longer be taking place in Brooklyn with Hammersmith, where Kohler lives, comes with disappointment, despite him knowing he would eventually have to migrate production in order to achieve an operational level he aspires to with his business.
Kohler is in the process of building the tooling from the ground up with Ohio Metal Fabricating, which is a necessary step to enable him to complete his mission to create a “new vernacular” for copper cookware through his new line.
“Our new cookware will be in strictly American dimensions. The configurations will be designed to match the real estate on American range tops and the handles will be completely original designs stemmed from traditional iron casting motifs native to the New York’s early 20th century tradition in architectural and maritime metal casting,” he says, adding, “A silver-lining option is also in the works and that production would be done in Brooklyn.”
In addition, Kohler is intent on delivering a consistency with materials.
"We were not quite getting it right and now we have narrowed it down to the best quality copper with the highest rate of thermal efficiency," he says, specifying the grade as C11000. “Although they (grades of copper) are all molecularly the same, they are oxygenated and oxidized at various degrees. The C11000 grade has an exceptional bonding potential with tin.”
With delivery of his first prototypes on the horizon, Brooklyn Copper Cookware hopes to be back in full production by the beginning of the new year when they plan to debut their new collection.
Also in this Issue:
- American Copper Pot Revival
- Frogs in the Foundry: Valley Pattern & Manufacturing
- Irony: The Heart and Soul of Copper
- Modern Rustic Meets the Jewelry of Missficklemedia.com
- MBA Debuts Calder Retrospective