At the heart of every kitchen is a cast iron skillet. Crafted only a few blocks from Schoolhouse, FINEX is heritage American cast-iron cookware at its very best. Vintage-inspired with modern upgrades and an eye-catching design, the cast-iron cookery that FINEX is producing is worthy of the highest praise, deserving a special place in kitchens the world over. Aside from being neighbors of ours, we feel a true kinship with their ethos of care and the drive to create beautiful, heirloom products that will last for generations. We spoke with Ron Khormaei, the Co-founder and CEO of FINEX who shared one of his favorite bits of feedback he received from a couple in Texas that had just bought a FINEX of their own and told him: 'We are not owners of cast iron, we are caretakers.' Below is our chat with Ron about the story of FINEX, his love of cast-iron and how to best utilize their cooking powers.
Tell us, how did FINEX begin - what is your origin story and why did you decide to get into the cast-iron game?
"We started FINEX because we were both seeking healthier cookware alternatives. My business partner, Mike Whitehead, and his wife were trying to have a child and looking for healthier and trusted cookware alternatives to aluminum, teflon, or space age ceramics. Also, I have two sons and was frustrated with spending time and money buying organic vegetables and grass-fed beef to then throw them in pots that we didn't even know what part of the world they came from, far less what was leaching out of them. We basically wanted to ditch our mass-produced mystery polymer non-stick pans.
Mike had already started to examine the older cast iron cookware from the 40's and 50's. It was amazing to see the intentional design, the cast quality and the smooth surface of these pans and wondered why nobody was continuing to craft cast iron like this. Cast iron is the original non-stick cookware, at least from that period—and it's been trusted for decades as a healthy cooking option because it's made simply from iron. Recognizing these qualities and examining the current cast iron cookware on the market, we knew we had an opportunity to bring back high-quality cast iron cookware that's crafted the way it was intended generations ago. We sought to design cast iron cookware that met the modern functional needs and aesthetic appeal for today's cooks—while adding unique functional value. We spent countless hours optimizing a pan that is functionally elegant and true to the proven ways of processing, and we launched it on Kickstarter in 2013. The response was tremendous, and proved that others also valued premium quality cast iron cookware with modern, thoughtful design."
Process-wise, what does making each FINEX cast iron entail?
"We base our processes on traditional methods that are closely monitored and controlled to meet our high quality standards. The FINEX design is quite unique in that it has four parts and requires assembly by hand for the final product. From start to finish, every piece passes through twelve pairs of hands with each stage closely inspected for quality craftsmanship and detail. The materials in our cast iron cookware are carefully sourced and crafted here in the USA—and most of it is done in our NW Portland factory or within 25 miles of our location. Our process begins with rough-sand castings that come from a few trusted US foundries who carefully source iron and meet our quality standards. Then the fun really begins: we grind, machine, tumble and polish each pan to bring out their intentional designs and create an ultra-smooth finish that's safe for all cooking surfaces—much of this is done completely by hand.
From there, we pre-season each pan with 100% organic flaxseed oil —which gives each pan it's protection and beautiful color. Then, we hand assemble each pan with it's unique spring handle and bass end cap using a hammer and a mandrel. The distinct "Speed-Cool" spring handles are made from stainless steel and are custom wound here in Oregon. Our spring handles, brass end caps and lid knobs are all hand-polished locally too. In the past few years, we've learned how to bring back these traditional crafting methods to ensure our product is made from honest and trusted materials. For example, to achieve a mirror-like finish on stainless steel, it is often coated with chrome; however, since we wanted to keep the material pure, we actually hand-polish each spring in our factory. This is more time consuming and costly but results in a much smoother finish and, more importantly, with no chemicals introduced. As mentioned, all of our pans are pre-seasoned with organic Flaxseed oil which takes an hour compared to the commercial processes that use palm oil and Ammonia to reduce the heating time to 1 minute. We invest in this time to craft our cast iron the hard way because it's trusted, and it's required to craft cookware that will outlast the many kitchens it serves."
Your HQ is a stone's throw away from us at Schoolhouse! How did you guys settle there and what's it like to work at FINEX?
"Our first cookware was built inside of a garage in Sherwood. Yes, another 'born in the garage' story. When our ideas became more of a reality, we intentionally sought a central location close to downtown Portland. We wanted a building that matched our company's intentions while showed off our passion and dedication to this craft. After several months of search, we found this perfect building in the light-industrial section of the town. The building is from 1920s and used to house a machine shop. A classic exterior and original interior with even a working heavy-duty lift was a perfect match. Our surroundings, including companies like Schoolhouse, made us feel right at home. We even received preference during the closing, when the landlord found that we make cast iron and heard our story. His family loves cooking in cast iron and he ended up buying 20 of our products for his employees the first year we were there."
What is your best advice for cooking with cast iron? And what is your favorite meal to cook with one?
"There's a few basics we should cover. My advice to friends is not to be afraid of cast iron because it is so very forgiving. You can scorch the pan, scratch the pan, or even have it completely rust—and with a little elbow grease and some quality oil you can completely return cast iron cookware to its perfect working condition. No other cookware behaves in such a way (which is why it lasts). When cooking with cast iron, it's important to heat the pan first and I always recommend that people use a medium low heat before cooking with their cast iron. With thinner aluminum pans, we have grown used to turning the stove on high for a minute and throwing food in the pan expecting the pan to cool with the addition of the food. Cast iron is thick, and takes a little longer to heat up—but the best part about this— it holds the temperature and cooks evenly."
"Cast iron cooking forces us a to slow down a little bit and get more meaning from the cooking we are doing, so have a little patience when heating and you will get perfect cooking results every time. When cleaning cast iron, use a heavy duty spatula or stainless steel scrubber. You can add scrubbing the pan with nothing more than hot water—that simple. As additional measure, make sure to dry it completely after washing and then lightly oil before storing—this protects the seasoning of the pan and acts as a moisture barrier. There are a lot of old tales floating around about how to clean and cook with cast iron, but with cast iron, with simple steps like above above, you can't go wrong. It's practically impossible to damage cast iron beyond repair.
As for food, this is a loaded question. I'm a foodie so can go on for a while on this topic. But I especially enjoy simpler items. A great start in my day is with eggs over easy in our 8" skillet for a quick breakfast—it's size makes for the perfect meal in a pan. A piece of Salmon with simple salt, pepper, a pat of butter and dash of lemon juice in our 10" grill pan seared on each side quickly and then 5 minutes in the oven makes a great lunch dish on weekends. We also prepare a fair amount of corn bread from a scratch recipe using our 12" skillet. This is a classic dish that brings out the best with cast iron and leaves enough leftovers to share at work the next day."
What makes Finex cast irons so special?
"Our distinct design stands out for sure and is what initially draws our customers to us. In fact, customers tell us 'they leave it out on purpose.' But what's really meaningful is the trust customers have in a traditional cookware that they know each pan is crafted hard way using materials and careful methods. The quality craftsmanship and the intentional time it takes to make each pan requires passion and dedication to the craft, which our customers are proud to show off and reflects their own attention to details while preparing the food. Our customers use our cookware to tell their story through food and to share life one meal at a time—knowing this brings us joy which drives our passion and dedication to this craft."
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Images provided by FINEX