How a Former Rocket Scientist Makes the Best Copper Pots in America — Handmade

(playful music) – [Jim] I’ve been making copper cookware for 15 years. It’s a passion for the process of creation and the tools of creation, choosing a high-performance tool that have soul and have meaning behind it, it changes kinda how you think about cooking. Copper has a great heat conductivity, the heat from that flame is going to be spread very quickly around the pan such that you’ve got a nice evenly-heated cooking surface to cook at the same rate all around the pan.

A great high-performance tool. (upbeat music) The copper that we’re using here is pure copper. It’s a great electrical conductor as well as a great heat conductor so it’s used in wiring. It’s a very important metal in how we are existing these days. The big copper producers in the world are Chile – there’s a lot of volcanic activity around there so they do have a lot of mines and a lot minerals. Our blank disc which has been trimmed, cut out from the sheet of copper. So here we’ve got a spinning lathe, we need to make this piece of copper, push it over the tool so the tool becomes the inside. Every pan that we make has a different-shaped tool. This tool is heavy, heavy, heavy steel, and it’s only going to make that one pan. (gentle music) So the first thing I wanna do is center the piece of copper and we’ll get it roughly centered here.

The tooling itself is a two-man job. The first person is putting the pressure. The second man has a roller. It’s going back and forth on the work. It’s very much a dance, you have to be in each other’s heads to be able to spin this perfectly. Fernando has been working with me for about 10 years now, well-entrenched in copper cookware. I’m a mechanical engineer undergrad, a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering, so real-life rocket scientist. I love to build stuff, I love to create. Certainly the mechanical engineering is front and center. Gonna move down one more set of holes, continuing the same process but moving it closer and closer to the tool. Last little bit here, very nice, hold it, hold it slow. Nice, and stop. Good, let’s change for the other roller.

That was good. These tools were all made specifically for spinning these very thick copper pans. Very hard steel to polish that because any little nick in there is going to mark the copper every single time it goes around. We’re eight feet away from what we’re working on. Over time, we added some extra strength here to really hold it nice and firm. Nice, and come up. Nice. The other roller is more pointy and it wants to move the metal. The fatter roller will get rid of some of these lines and make it more smooth. Nice, and down. Excellent. Nice. A little practice makes perfect. (tense music) Being that it’s handmade, those spinning lines aren’t like a press where it was just pressed into this shape with hydraulic press, very different way of manufacturing. So this tool here is going to be locked in with this bolt.

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Has a little knife on the edge to cut the pan to height. We need a little cutting oil on the tool to help keep it cool. (tense string music) (whirring) We’ll usually finish the outside of the pan, we’ll use a number of different sandpapers. In an artisan fashion, every piece is gonna be slightly different than the next. I was on a vacation in France, my wife and I found this huge stockpot and she looked at it and said, “I love it, but look at the inside.” And it was green, and she said, “I’m not gonna cook in that.” “If we buy it, you’re gonna have to fix it.” That was the pan that started the whole thing. I brought it home and read about what I needed to do, tried fixing it, and think I tried that thing seven, eight times. And finally the art of it kind of clicked in.

I put a little ad out there, people started sending me their pans and I started finding these amazing pieces coming back, and I really didn’t expect to find such history in it. And I said, “I wanna be able to make stuff and sell stuff that is of this same quality.” This is what it should be, this is what it was. Cast iron is a very poor conductor of heat. The heat from the pan is gonna travel up the handle very slowly. What we’re going to do next here is take our cast iron handle, which has been poured at a local foundry, and we’re gonna attach it with these rivets. We’re using the piece of wood as a gauge to know that that’s where the handle goes. (playful music) We’ve gotta rivet three rivets, the first rivet is the middle one. We’re gonna take that over to the anvil.

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So we’re gonna heat the tails of the rivets. (drilling) (hammering) (drilling) So from here we’ve got nice even shapes on all three rivets. They’re laying nice and flat up against the pan so no leaking. The genesis of my business being Duparquet really came out of the restoration. I started learning about the brands that were coming back to me. The biggest player of the day was DH&M. Duparquet, a gentleman named Huot, H-U-O-T, and Moneuse, DH&M. That business began about 1855. The big start for these guys was getting one of their ranges into Delmonico’s in New York City back in the day. With the Depression coming on in the early ’30s, almost all of these guys went out of business. That mark had been abandoned. I went out and I re-registered that trademark, making pieces in the same vein and same quality as they did. This is an old Duparquet DH&M piece that says The Ambassador Hotel, Ambassador New York. I’d put this at about 1920. Gorgeously big rivets about the size of a quarter.

Classic American cookware from that era. The teardrop, this was a very French style of end of the handle for hanging it up. All of those elements inspired my designs. It was definitely to honor the original brand. Restorations will start out with something like this. Having this relined with fresh tin, polished up on the outside brings it back to be able to use again. These are all individual clients that have sent in their pieces. Everybody’s got a story about where they got their copper from. Look at this fish poacher. A fish would be sitting on this insert and you’d be able to lift the entire fish. This is American, early 1900s, wonderful large saucepan. Here’s another great piece. This is from the Waldorf Astoria, when the Waldorf existed where the Empire State Building presently is and it was torn down in probably the ’30s. So this is a great piece with a lot of history and a great stamp on it. To find something like this to have in your own kitchen is spectacular.

The next step is to line the pan. I need to coat it on the outside with a little bit of whiting, and this whiting is just ground marble. So this is just protection on the outside. Tin is a very soft metal, it can be bent very easily and it melts at a very low temperature so it melts at about 470 degrees. The lining is there to separate the acidic foods from the copper. Acidic foods in raw copper are going to leech the copper off of the pan. If we took white vinegar and wiped it on the inside of a raw piece of copper, let it sit for 24 hours and came back the next day, it’s gonna give you that green verdigris that you know about copper. You want it to last a long time, so you want to get a thick layer of tin that looks great and it takes a lot of heart and a lot of practice. The backsides have gotten a little tarnished throughout the process. Gonna give them a little wash and then we’re gonna be off to a polish. (gentle music) We’ve got two different polishing compounds very similar to sandpaper. This stronger wheel here is gonna be first and we’re gonna be able to take off all of the little microscratches that we had.

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The compound is more important than the brushes themselves. A low-grit sandpaper takes the material off the pan. And then the final polish. So these are softer. The white one here is a higher-grit sandpaper, takes all the little microscratches off. This really brightens it up. After a final wash, we’ll put a logo on it and we’ll have a pan ready to cook. (upbeat music) When I started getting some press early on in doing this, a couple of the family members contacted me and they were thrilled that I was making pieces again under essentially the name of their ancestors. I was thrilled to be able to put that together and learn a little bit more about the business from them. You wish that this thing could tell the stories of who cooked in it and what did they cook in it. What was life like in these times? It’s a really special pan. I don’t know if these gentlemen thought that we’d be doing this 100 years later and we are, it’s great. I hope 100 years from now there’s somebody out there finding my piece and pass down from generation to generation. That’s to me what these pans should be. (upbeat tinkling music)