It’s no secret that, at Sur La Table, we love Staub cast iron cookware beaucoup. Those beautifully rich colors, that matte enamel interior for caramelization like you’ve never seen, the durability — there’s a lot to love. This season, we’re excited to introduce both a color and a shape that were pulled from the Staub archives specially for us. To peek behind the scenes and get the cast iron skinny, we spoke with Jean Deniau, one of Staub’s representatives and a personal friend of Staub’s founder. Also, don’t miss our favorite recipe for boeuf bourguignon at the bottom of the post!
Jean, what inspired Francis Staub to create his cookware company?
Near his birthplace, Francis Staub’s grandmother owned a shop that specialized in cookware for consumers and professional cooks, so Francis was very familiar with cookware. In the early seventies, he graduated from L’Ecole du Cinéma, a French academy that teaches filmmaking and film production.
One night, Francis was having dinner in a famous restaurant and was visiting with the chef – no less than Paul Bocuse himself! Chef Bocuse complained that there was no supply of quality cast iron products for professional usage that could be easily left on the “piano” (the name of their gas range in the professional kitchen).
Chef Bocuse wanted a collection of cast iron that would be available in multiple sizes so that the chef could use the pot for his different needs, was sized for everything from single servings to large groups, could keep the “aroma” in the food during cooking, and was enameled so it would be easy to clean.
During that evening they exchanged their ideas and scribbled sketches right there at the table. Due to his temperament, ambition and creative talent, Francis Staub was intrigued by the idea of creating something new. With a rough plan, he interviewed a few more chefs and decided to give it a try — to create the perfect cookware for chefs.
The first mock-up was created as a sculpture, and then the manufacturing was commissioned to a well-known factory, Arthur Martin. This manufacturer was producing cast iron, but not cookware, and his production facilities were not set up to enamel the casted goods.
At this point, Francis needed to find a different manufacturer. While the “creation” part was his passion he realized that he needed to manage the whole process. To better control his supply chain, he had to gradually integrate the manufacturing process. First he bought an atelier for mold making, later the enameling facility, and finally today’s cast iron factory in Merville in the north of France.
Our guiding principle has always been, “For chefs, designed by chefs.” For all product development, Francis Staub always asked the chefs first for their opinion and he kept exceptional relationships with some of the greatest amongst them: Alain Dutournier, Michel Guerard, Alain Loiseau, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Alain Passard. But one always kept the role of the chef d’orchestre – the chef of all the chefs – Paul Bocuse.
Staub was founded in the Alsace region of France. Did that location influence the products Staub would create?
The area is renowned for hearty one-pot recipes and fine enameled ceramics. As Francis began to expand his assortment, a lot of region-specific products appeared, including baeckheoffe cooking dishes (special pots to cook potatoes and several types of meats) and kouglof molds (for local brioches in different formats). The designs for these products were handcrafted, reflecting the local traditions.
How can you tell if a piece of cast iron cookware is high quality?
Quality standards in our production factory are very high. During the production process around one hundred controls are done — visually or through automated controls. Raw materials and components are much more controlled and regulated. For many parts of the production process, we still have many manual operations for grinding and hand-painting cast iron pieces.
When choosing cast iron cookware, look for:
- An overall sophisticated design
- The intensity of colors – see our majolique colors, for example
- The finish and details – precision, high gloss color, no defects
- Brand logo and name on lids of some pieces
- High-end components like nickel and brass knobs
- A smart design. With Staub, you’ll see self-basting spikes, tight-fitting lids, the rails of our mussel pot, etc.
- Made in France, especially from the north or east of France, where you have the key players in cast iron cookware
Can you tell us about Staub’s signature majolique finishes and how they’re created?
Staub products are known for their unique design and their colors. Majolica is a special enameling technique originating from southern Europe. Staub developed majolique for cast iron cookware, and it is now a unique feature for us.
The Majolica colors are complex to develop because they consist of three layers of enamel (base coating, color application and extra layer of almost pure glass for the majolica effect). This means the products go in the oven three times and this requires a lot of care and time in the development process.
The recipe to get the final Majolica color is an internal process that can take several months of development with our color experts. We offer a product that has a stunning visual effect in your kitchen or on your table. Majolica colors offer shades and deep contrasts of color intensity that make cookware look like a piece of jewelry.
Has that majolique process changed much over the years?
The first majolique piece of Staub was offered to customers in 2002. Raw materials — glass and enamel — are unchanged, but the process has evolved a bit using the benefits of new technology for testing and spraying.
Why was Pine selected to be the first majolique finish? Is there a significance to the color?
The first Majolica color, this beautiful green, was inspired by food, the French apéritif culture, and the olives you use in your meat terrine, pâté or olive cake.
What’s the story behind the new terrine shape created for Sur La Table?
While cleaning out a room at the Staub factory, one of Francis Staub’s original molds was found. This vintage mold was for a timeless terrine, which was a piece found in the Staub archives. After inspection, it was determined that only 1,000 pieces could be made from the mold, as molds will not last forever.
The oval terrine shape is a traditional cooking and presentation dish for meat loaves in France. Francis Staub added a nice feature — the handles, called “ears” at Staub. These ears are a signature for most of our oval and round gratin dishes.
What would you recommend cooking in a Staub cocotte or terrine?
In a cocotte, don’t miss a nice boeuf bourguignon [see our recipe below], a coq au vin, or a fresh and healthy ratatouille. But baking bread or cooking strawberry jam in a cocotte are also unforgettable!
The terrine is, as its name says, appropriate for a meat terrine! But of course it is also a perfect shape for an olive cake or for baking and serving all kinds of side dishes.
Merci, Jean! Do you own a piece of Staub cookware and, if so, in what color? What’s your favorite thing to cook in it?