Sixth Annual Made in the South Awards

December/January 2016

A new class of Southern artisans have turned their passion for craftsmanship and quality into a way of life

(Photo by Tara Donne)

Overall Winner: Blanc Creatives

A Virginia metalsmith specializes in timeless—and gorgeous—Southern cookware

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Blanc Creatives
Product: Cookware
Made in: Charlottesville, VA
Est.: 2011

Like a lot of Southerners, Corry Blanc learned to cook with a cast-iron skillet. Growing up in Dawsonville, Georgia, he spent a lot of time in his grandmother’s kitchen, where there was always one close at hand. But as he got older and worked a few stints in restaurants, he noticed a different kind of metal cookware being pressed into service: carbon steel.

Similar to cast iron, carbon steel is excellent at holding heat, and it is also nonstick when properly seasoned. But it is lighter and smoother than its better-known cousin, and pans made from it tend to have sloped, not vertical, sides, which is ideal for jobs that require a lot of movement in the pan (think browning meat, sautéing vegetables, and flipping eggs).

Though popular overseas, where it is the stuff of woks and crepe pans, carbon steel isn’t as well known outside restaurant kitchens in this country. But Blanc, now a skilled blacksmith in Charlottesville, Virginia, has found that home cooks appreciate the pans’ slim profile and hardworking durability. “A lot of my customers are people who grew up using cast iron,” he says. “You take care of the pans pretty much the same way. The difference is, if you drop carbon steel, it won’t break.”

Rather than pouring metal into a mold, Blanc makes his skillets and cassole pans by hand. Each one starts with a one-eighth-inch-thick piece of steel, which he forces into a crude shape using a hydraulic press and then hammers into its final form before adding a curved handle. In the case of the skillet, the bend makes for a comfortable grip you don’t always find on cast-iron equivalents. Each piece takes five or six hours, and he repeats the process up to thirty times each week with the help of a team of fellow metalsmiths. It’s time-consuming work, but Blanc is used to that. “I was an art kid through high school,” he says. “I spent a lot of time making stuff.”

Blanc discovered metalsmithing shortly after graduating, when he took a job at an uncle’s metal fabrication business, and later apprenticed under a blacksmith before going out on his own in 2009. He made his first skillet for fun while working on furniture and other projects for clients. It sat in his kitchen until he used it to decorate his stand at a holiday market, and a stream of customers asked to buy it. So he decided to put his rough design to the test. “A lot of my friends are chefs and restaurant owners,” he says. “I asked if they’d try my skillets and give me feedback.”

(Left to right: Tara Donne; Andrew Kornylak)

Soon, he had a skillet that restaurants all over Charlottesville—from the farm-centric Brookville Restaurant to the rustic Italian Tavola to the Spanish favorite Mas Tapas—are now snapping up in multiples.“We use them for searing meats and some seafoods,” says Mas Tapas chef-owner Tomas Rahal. “We’ll even put them in the brick oven at seven hundred, eight hundred degrees.”

But Blanc’s carbon-steel creations are more than just functional. He is an artist, after all, much like the culinary craftspeople who made the vintage iron cookware that now sells for hundreds and even thousands online to collectors. “One of the guys who works with me says that we make twenty-first-century antiques,” Blanc says. “We’re hoping that when people buy our stuff, it isn’t a novelty or a throwaway. If it’s taken care of, it’s something they can pass on to their grandchildren.” Or vice versa: This holiday season, Blanc has just the gift in mind for his grandmother.

Price: From $150

Rachel AshwellMeet the Home Category Judge
Name: Rachel Ashwell (Round Top, TX, and Malibu, CA)
Provinance: The author of nine design books—including The World of Shabby Chic, which hit shelves this past April—the British-born Ashwell spent years frequenting antiques fairs in Round Top. In 2011, she opened the Prairie, a forty-six-acre guest ranch and boutique, there. “Round Top speaks to all my senses like nowhere else in the world,” she says, “and fuels my inspiration.”

Illustrations by Cheryl Chalmers