Behind every great restaurant lies an arsenal of well made tools, from a perfectly balanced knife, to shiny copper pots, to gorgeous ceramic plates. And behind all of those tools there’s a whole world of artisans, many of whom have dedicated their entire lives to developing their skills.
Those unsung heroes of the food world are the subjects of the Eater Video series Handmade. Each episode puts the spotlight on a different artisan or maker, showcasing the techniques they’ve cultivated to make the perfect, restaurant-quality chef’s knife, cast iron pan, or ceramic dish.
But you don’t have to be affiliated with a restaurant to get these handmade items for yourself. Many of the featured artisans have made it possible to buy what they make online. While most of the items are pricier than what you might find on Amazon or at your local big box store, after seeing how much work goes into each kitchen tool featured in an episode of Handmade, owning one will feel all the more special. As artist Elizabeth Lyons says in Handmade’s glassblowing video, “The things that people make are forever.”
Shop the episodes
Quintin Middleton’s interest in the art of hand-forged knives started at a young age, when he was captivated by sword-brandishing heroes like Conan the Barbarian and He-Man. As a teen, Middleton spent years learning to make knives and swords under a master bladesmith, and in 2010, he opened his own shop in South Carolina with a focus on crafting Damascus steel chef’s knives. Ten years later, Middleton Made Knives are highly regarded by chefs.
The blades feature Damascus steel’s signature wavy pattern. The pattern appears after Middleton applies ferric chloride to two types of steel that are then blended together to form the durable yet thin blade. You can see that process on Handmade and buy Middleton’s chef’s knives, paring knives, nakiri knives, and more on his website.
It’s incredibly soothing to watch clay be molded into plates, bowls, mugs, and cups. Ceramicist Jono Pandolfi has been doing it since 2004, and now has his own studio in Union City, New Jersey where, with a small team of highly skilled artisans, he makes dishware for notable restaurants like New York City’s NoMad and Eleven Madison Park.
Prior to the pandemic, Pandolfi and his team generally handcrafted 300 pieces a day, most of them destined for restaurant tables. But with restaurants closed due to COVID-19, Pondolfi has been relying more on direct-to-consumer business, and many of his collections are available to purchase through the company’s website.
Borough Furnace is a family-run shop that creates handmade cast iron skillets, oven-to-table bakeware, and Dutch ovens. Co-owners Liz Seru and John Truex are hands-on in every aspect of the lengthy process, from building the molds, to pouring the molten metal, to sanding, shaping, and seasoning the pots and pans.
Each piece is either finished in a kiln, or given an enamel coating, Borough Furnace’s specialty. It’s actually the only company in the U.S. to enamel cast iron, and Seru and Truex achieve this with an “enamel slip” spray, similar to those used in glazing ceramics, composed of glass, clay, and powder. Their mix is specially engineered to expand and shrink with the pan as it goes from an oven to room temperature to keep the enamel from chipping.
During a trip to France, rocket scientist-turned-coppersmith Jim Hamann came across a vintage copper pot that inspired him to start a business restoring copper pots and pans for others. And eventually, he decided to handcraft his own.
At Duparquet Copper Cookware in Rhode Island, Hamann honors the methods and quality of a centuries-old tradition, and makes heirloom-quality copper cookware for passionate home cooks, including food writer Ruth Reichl, and professional chefs alike. You can buy his work, which ranges in price from $70 for a copper heat diffuser to $2,600 for solid silver cookware, directly from the Duparquet website.
South Carolina-based woodturner Ashley Harwood works with locally salvaged wood to make beautiful, handcrafted wood bowls. Woodturning, put simply, is a process of cutting wood to make it round, and on Handmade, she walks through each step, from selecting the wood, to carving, shaping, sealing and aging a newly formed bowl. The process from start to finish can take as long as a year. In addition to owning one of her bowls, which you can buy by keeping an eye on her Instagram and newsletter for updates, hobbyist woodturners can purchase woodturning tools and lessons from her website.
Since 1963, KwangJuYo Group has been making 3,000 varieties of traditional Korean ceramic cups, bowls, and plates by hand in Seoul, South Korea. Master craftsman Yu Myeong Sik’s hands-on approach, which includes shaping the pieces from clay, hand-carving floral designs, and custom glazing, all stem from Korean tradition.
The ceramics have made their way to Michelin-starred restaurants like the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley and Jungsik in New York City. You can purchase your own pieces inspired by historical designs and traditions online, like the hand-carved black floral laden Heritage Mokdan Tea Set, or the classic MokBuYong-Mun-Moon-Bowl that Yu makes in the “Handmade” episode.
At More Fire Glass Studio in upstate New York, Elizabeth Lyons transforms soda-lime glass into one-of-a-kind blown vessels and sculptural art. While custom floral glass chandeliers are a Lyons signature, smaller, ready-to-buy pieces, like colorful glass bowls and tea light holders make their own statements, fit for the dining room table. “We’re starting to really appreciate things that are handmade,” says Lyons in the episode. “There’s a story about the making, there’s a story about the idea that went into it, there’s experience.”