Founded back in 2012, Portland, Oregon’s Finex was successfully funded both through private capital and Kickstarter and became a darling of the culinary community for its labored-over quality and style. The brand’s goal from the start was decidedly low-volume perfection, and it was such a success that heritage cast iron brand Lodge acquired the brand in 2019. Lodge now makes Finex in its own Tennessee forge, but wisely left the products’ best elements and fine details alone—including the striking eight rounded corners that function as spouts.
We used some Finex wares recently, putting them through heat testing (up to 900 degrees in a pizza oven), grilling, brazing and sautéing. From the spring handles (which not only feel good, but also cool down quickly) to the hand-seasoned surface, we were impressed. We decided to speak with brand director Michael Griffin and chef Gregory Gourdet (who cooked and served meals on Finex at his pop-up Portland outpost, Kann) about why the designs are so successful.
Cast iron is always heavy, and Finex clearly wasn’t designed to skirt that. It leans into the heft and also evolves the shape with each pot and pan having eight sides. Can you talk a bit about why that’s important?
Michael Griffin: The basic skillet design was ossified. It’s this round pan with a short handle. It’s forged by pouring molten iron into a sand casting. But that shape—that’s already wrong because a heavy pan with a short handle means you have no leverage. Finex was founded because there’s a lot of other technology that has changed. Our knowledge of how to melt iron and how to get a uniform pour, and also how to CNC machine and, obviously, CAD and other design tech have evolved. As for the weight, the thicker you go, the fewer hot spots you have. Cheap cast iron may be lighter, but then your food will stick. We used thermal-imaging and a lot of experimentation to get the right material density so you’d have super-even heating. It’s maybe half a pound heavier per piece, but that makes a massive difference.
There’s also a grooved pattern in the base of every pan, except the grill pan with grates. Can you explain why and the “telltale” of having it?
MG: Unlike a lot of mass-market or non-US-made cast iron, we run our pans through a CNC mill. It’s tough to do right; there can be a lot of issues and the heat of the machining can warp the pan. But that’s also how we get them as flat and smooth as possible. We wanted that surface to get to non-stick performance. Anyway, our process leaves spirals. We talked about taking those out, but we found they don’t make any difference in the cooking performance and we really like how it catches this bowtie of light across the surface. We want people to walk over and be like, “Oh wow, what the hell is that!”
The coiled-steel handles riffed from the door handles of vintage cast iron stoves are definitely eye-catching. They also do work; in our testing, we found they’re long enough for better leverage. How did Finex land on this design?
MG: The handle had to be longer and a lot of cast iron gets these handles with rough edges around the sides. A rounder shape was part of what we wanted because that gives your hand more purchase and then we also wanted a design that would dissipate heat, so you could at least fry an egg without needing an oven mitt. Of course, with our other design principles, it’s got to be good forever. And it’s got to be something that we can iterate on and use on our complete line. Coils had been used in wood-stoves and we tried a variety of spring formulations, but after a variety of heat cycles, too many of them would get loose. Ours is actually tensioned and rotated from both ends, so it’s clocked against its desired rotation and that doesn’t require any mechanical element like a screw that could corrode or loosen. Then the brass end-cap ages with the pan; it’s functional because the softer brass bites into that pin that holds the spring, but it also gets a patina and tells the story of your life of cooking.
Chef Gregory, since you cook and serve on Finex, tells us what appeals to you about the products.
Gregory Gourdet: The eight-sidedness is really useful. You can rotate the lid a little bit to let a sauce reduce and each corner just gives you more of an open angle to get a spatula underneath what you’re cooking to flip it—and that really matters for something delicate like a piece of Columbia River steelhead. Home cooks might not realize, either, that that ultra-flat surface is kind of critical.
Can you explain why?
GG: It’s a core principle of cooking. You never want a tool that makes the work harder. A sharp knife cuts more cleanly and safely than a dull one, and a really flat pan with consistent heating makes your ingredients shine. I’m a big fan of crispy skin, so take a piece of salmon—all the omega threes are mostly in the skin, burn it and you’ve lost the flavor as well as the health benefits. When we talk about searing tenderloin steaks, you definitely don’t want to overcook. It’s a pretty mild-mannered piece of meat so you want to develop a little bit of a crust, that Maillard reaction, to develop some flavor. Then what’s so important there is not losing any of that in the floor of the pan, and that’s why that surface really matters.
Do you think better pots and pans matter more than the stove you’re cooking on?
GG: I think people are attracted to an aesthetic and that happened with me. My first piece of Finex was a gift; I was a little bit in awe. But I’ve cooked just about every type of ingredient in that eight-inch pan. It’s going to outlive me for sure. It’s really tough. During the pandemic, I was testing dishes for the cookbook and took it to the beach to make Oregon clams in coconut milk over an open fire right on the edge of the ocean. I’ve made dessert in it. You name it. I personally feel that you don’t need a lot of tools. It’s really about quality. Everyone’s pantry or cupboard or repertoire of equipment needs that one tool like this that you just have as your everyday go-to.
Images courtesy of Finex