“Do you want a pair of earplugs?”
Patrick Maher asks halfway through our interview. “You might want earplugs.”
Maher is a blacksmith located in Ballard who, along with co-owner of Blu Skillet Ironware and girlfriend Caryn Badgett, handcrafts a line of cast-iron pans that are beginning to catch fire among Seattle’s foodie crowd and some of the area’s most prominent chefs.
He suggests earplugs because making their standard nine-inch pan by hand involves a surprising amount of loud noise, but he wants to show me the process because both he and Badgett agree the process of making their blue-hued pans is what their business is really all about.
“These are processes that are old, and they haven’t changed much and there’s not a lot of reason for them to; they are time-honored,” Badgett says as Maher turns on a roaring forge that reaches 2,200 degrees and sits in the middle of their metal workshop in Ballard.
Badgett, a Northwest native with a degree in fine arts from Washington State University, shows me a square piece of steel. “This is how each pan starts out,” she says. Then she hands it to Maher who begins the process of heating, hammering and pounding (sometimes with hydraulic presses) the slate until it forms the shape of the bottom of a pan.
“I was introduced to forging and blacksmithing, and as soon as I tried it, I fell in love with it; there’s something so cool about taking hot metal and being able to manipulate, shape it,” says Maher, who is originally from Boston, where he was trained in fine arts, specifically illustration, before he became intrigued with sculptural work that led him into blacksmithing.
Maher, and a few fellow blacksmith friends, complete the metalwork portion of the pan-making process, but that’s not where the process stops.
“We go through quite an extra step on the finishing end. First there’s the sandblasting; before they are blue, they are sandblasted. ... Sandblasting gets all the scale off [excess metal], then there’s wire brushing, and last the heat treatment in the kiln. That’s where the blue color comes from,” Maher says.
Badgett’s specialty is the treatment, which aside from giving the pans their unique blue color, also gives them qualities that make them all-stars in the kitchen.
“It adds a layer of iron oxide to the pan,” Badgett says. “Which is a rust deterrent, and gives it better heat transference. It helps with the blackening and patina, a nice foundation to build seasoning, and with tempering the pan as well.”
With all of this in mind, Badgett and Maher felt their pans were both beautiful and practical, but it wasn’t until they put them to the test in a professional setting that they got confirmation.
“We thought they are really nice, so we gave one to the chef for Stoneburner and Bastille, and he said, ‘That’s cute, but I’ll let you know if it’s a good pan.’ There are a lot of things they are looking for in a pan. Like, when you heat it up, does it stay hot to get a good sear? And restaurant stoves are even higher [temps], so warping also becomes an issue. But he loves our pans; he bought a whole set, 28 pans, for the restaurants.”
The couple met three years ago through mutual friends in Ballard, where they live, work and sell their products (at the farmers’ market), and they went into business about two years ago. And while they are looking forward to future growth, they both agree they never want to lose touch with the products. “We want to stay small. We want to be the final hands that every pan passes through, and it’s a lot of work.”
➸ For more information, visit bluskilletironware.com