Sometimes There’s a Pan

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Everyone and their Italian uncle has cooked up a DTC kitchenware brand. There’s Our Place, Caraway, and Misen. There’s GreenPan, Great Jones, and Sardel. And there’s a lot of echoed branding: pastel patterns shot at an angle, celebrities posing behind towered cookware, influencers waxing poetic about this pan or that — the only one you’ll ever need. It’s a big, appetizing market for investment, but — as the magnificent implosion of Great Jones showed — not all the chefs crowding into the kitchen deserve a spot on the line.

What makes Jake Kalick stand out is that he didn’t just leap at VC dollars. A third-generation restaurant equipment distributor, Kalick was always going to end up being a pot dealer. That he became something of an industry rebel — challenging legacy brands overcharging for industrial-quality cookware — was less inevitable but still not shocking.

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Kalick has a sprinkle of an attitude and more than a dash of focus. The quality of the blue carbon and stainless-steel pots and pans manufactured by his brand, Made In, is exceptional. He’s in the 5-ply stainless steel game and though he’s conceded a bit — he rocks with aluminum cores as opposed to stainless-steel cores, which are more desirable but don’t necessarily retain heat any better — he’s near the top of it. And he’s got a big backer: no less than Mr. Top Chef himself, Tom Colicchio.

Celebrity backings are part and parcel of the DTC e-commerce model; a familiar face never hurts. Still, Kalick and Malt didn’t pitch Colicchio. He came to them.

“Over the years, people approached me and wanted me to get involved in their cookware at a very low price point, very mass-market,” Colicchio says. “Even though that may have been financially the way to go, I wasn’t interested in backing something I wouldn’t cook with. Not only did I invest, but I outfitted an entirely new kitchen I was opening with Made In, which held up great. It’s a product I can stand behind. I use it. It’s in my restaurant kitchens, in my home kitchens — the enamel cookware sits on my stove. It doesn’t leave. I don’t put it away. It’s not something I invested in to make money, it’s something I believe in.”

Photo collage of images featuring 'Top Chef' Tom Collichio, with an illustration of a pan.
Photo collage of images featuring 'Top Chef' Tom Collichio, with an illustration of a pan.

In 2018, Colicchio was clued in on the brand by Danny Meyer — another celeb chef and a former restaurant partner of Colicchio’s at Gramercy Tavern in New York. After hearing he was interested, Kalick and his co-founder, the charmingly named e-comm expert Chip Malt, sent 16 pieces of cookware to Small Batch, a restaurant Colicchio was opening. Colicchio put the stuff to work and, well, it worked.

“I don’t think there was someone doing something of this quality that was direct-to-consumer,” Colicchio tells SPY over the phone. He liked Kalick and Malt, he liked their backgrounds, he liked the product, and after test-driving their prototypes, he invested. And wouldn’t you know it, Made In took off.

Since Colicchio got on board, other celebrity chefs, including James Beard Award-winner Grant Achatz (Alinea) and Nancy Silverton (Mozza Restaurant Group), have partnered with Made In, providing feedback on the company’s designs.

“It’s so valuable to us from a brand perspective,” Malt offers. “We’re letting people know that these are customers and not people we’re paying. It really is a testament to the product.”

Let’s consider the product and also what the name says about that product. Made In suggests the importance of provenance. That’s by design.

Historically, industrial-duty mass-market steel and aluminum cookware tend to come from sweatshops, and top-of-the-line cookery (think: All-Clad) is often produced in rust-belt Pennsylvania. Made In, on the other hand, sources elsewhere. The company seeks out small manufacturers and artisans across Western Europe. The Enameled Cast Iron line is poured in a hundred-year-old facility in Northeast France; the Blue Carbon Steel line comes from a 300-year-old manufacturer in rural France; the knives from fifth-generation bladesmiths in Thiers, France; the Stainless Clad is made (less specifically) in Italy; and the tableware is Stoke-on-Trent china from England. Limited runs of other items, including glassware, come from Portugal and Germany.

Not everyone is sold on this approach, however. “I kinda feel like Made In is solving a ‘problem’ that doesn’t really exist; just one they’ve convinced people exists,” says Lauren Savoie, a Business Insider Deputy Editor, as well as a Cooks Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen alum. Her point: Blue carbon steel is nothing new and it can be made every bit as well in the USA and maybe sold for cheaper. For a fraction of Made In’s retail prices, Lodge offers more affordable enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch ovens. Made In hasn’t tried to run a seasoned cast-iron cookware line.

Still, Lodge is an exception. Many if not most of Made In’s competitors charge similar prices and manufacture almost exclusively in Southeast Asia — Kalick does source serving utensils from Vietnam – where quality is not a given. One of the reasons for this is SKU-creep: Kitchenware companies tend to make a ton of different products. Again, Made In takes a different approach.

“We started with 16 SKUs,” Kalick says. “That’s a fairly small catalog, especially across a couple of lines of cookware.”

He explained this while sitting behind a vast, dark wooden desk in his Austin, Texas office, which looks almost presidential with many large windows but gazes out at a nondescript office park. Granted, it’s late winter and everything in Texas looks overcooked.

“At times I’d say, ‘Why don’t you do more?’” laughs Colicchio. “They said, ‘No, we’re going to do what we’re doing and build up slowly.’ And they were right! I’m a little less patient than they were.”

During one meeting, Colicchio recalls regaling the duo with an almost mythical tale about a carbon-steel pan of unknown origin that he credits with helping him perfect a signature sautéed chicken dish and kick-starting his career. Malt recalls him imploring them several times to take that very pan and recreate it, especially after Made In introduced its own line of (blue) carbon-steel pans.

Finally, Colicchio shipped his beloved pan to Austin. Made In used calipers to gauge the thickness of the steel and 3D imaging to scan the shape. They went a little heavier and adorned it with a spiffier brass handle, but otherwise held true to the original piece and Colicchio was pleased. The limited-edition run of 1000 pans sold out in a couple of days, and Colicchio remains hopeful Made In will do another run.

It’s a different way of thinking about product.

Like The Tom Pan, the bunka-style Damascus-steel kitchen knife collection was a just-because-we-can passion project. Kalick likes to experiment and he understands that these kinds of experiments can win the brand lifelong fans.

But what ultimately differentiates the brand is less the short-run stuff and more the 5-ply stainless-steel cookware Made In’s aluminum-alloy core is a more economical answer to All-Clad’s stainless-core patented 5-plys that holds up — at least according to Colicchio — just as well.

And that’s enough to make Made In special. The brand is a practical response to Our Place’s $150 recycled aluminum Always Pan 2.0, which sounds nice if you don’t know anything about recycled aluminum.

Something else will undoubtedly come along — it always does — and commercial chefs and home cooks alike will always have their noses in the wind for it. But for now, that something else might just be Made In.

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