A Case for Sauteing in Works of Art

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Courtesy of Thomas Eyck


I've long advocated the pleasure that comes from cooking in a well-made pot: one with good balance when lifted or moved around the stove, made of material that conducts heat evenly, that feels right to whatever your particular style of cooking is. Some pots actually shift the experience of cooking altogether—for me that happens often with French copper. Heavily made, with beautiful lines, they have a certain something about them: they are both ancienne and modern, and make you feel you are part of a tradition, of artisan cooks and chefs cooking with the seasons, with inventiveness.

Then I saw Dutch designer Aldo Bakker's new collection of copper. His saucepan instantly changed the way I look at cooking vessels. I imagined cooking in this beautiful piece of sculpture that instantly makes me think like an alchemist. What rarefied little concoction could I make? The completely other experience handling it would be. Which is, of course, what Bakker's copper is meant to do. Writes Dezeen blog:

Bakker allows his products to take shape on the basis of analysis so that they can question their usage and, where necessary, give rise to new rituals or break existing patterns. The almost endless process of their realisation give them a sense of 'inhuman' belonging, questioning their own existence.

"Questioning usage," "giving rise to new rituals," "breaking existing patterns" are such amazing qualities for a pot—or anything—to have. If only Bakker had taken them a step further ...

Both his gorgeous saucepan and his copper bowl are unlined, which means the copper will react to any food put into them, creating a potentially toxic mix (that is why copper pots are almost always lined with stainless steel or tin). One design blog reported erroneously that chefs like this reactivity, which isn't exactly true: the reactivity of copper is useful only with a few very quick cooking processes, like beating egg whites for a soufflé, or toasting sugar into a caramel. Practically, Bakker's saucepan remains a piece of conceptual art: an intriguing, somewhat mind-shifting idea with the distance of art. Shoot! I would so love to cook with that wild saucepan ... and experience what it's like to cook in a sculpture.

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Courtesy of Thomas Eyck

I would gladly replace my big copper egg white bowl with Bakker's to experience making a soufflé with it: gripping that odd handle as I beat the whites by hand with a balloon whisk, and then standing it on its side (perhaps to test if the egg whites are beaten properly) but certainly just to enjoy its akimbo look. And how much more interesting it would be to serve or eat a soup from it, or a mass of farm-stand cherries. Would it balance perfectly or precariously? Would it tip over? I wonder if Bakker just didn't consider these realities in the making, or if he outright ignored them in the name of aesthetics and ideals.

I wonder, too, if the ideas I saw in Bakker's pot and bowl will carry over to something else in my life, or even, ever-so-slightly, shift the way I cook in my old, beautiful French copper pots.

Click here to see more of Bakker's creations.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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