written by Melissa Dalton | photo by Eva Kosmas Flores
Like many avid home cooks, Mike Whitehead just wanted a good skillet.
Around 2011, his wife had challenged him to toss his non-stick cookware. In search of replacements, Whitehead turned to cast iron. He found modern models to be poorly made, so he started collecting Vintage cookware on Ebay, until that got expensive.
“I’m pathologically curious,” said Whitehead. “I’m the guy who asks questions.” He wondered, “What can I do to improve something that hadn’t been touched for 150 years?”
By 2012, Whitehead was working as an engineering program manager at Leupold & Stevens in Portland. In his spare time, he tinkered with a new skillet design, mainly by reverse-engineering the pans in his collection. Then he collaborated with industrial designer David Lewin to refine his ideas.
The resulting skillet is an octagon shape. “I tried a bunch of different shapes, and it had the best functional advantage,” said Whitehead, as the octagon creates six natural pour spouts. Inspired by traditional wood stoves, the handle is wrapped with a stainless steel spring for faster cooling. The pan’s interior is smoothed using a CNC machine for easy food release.
A 2013 Kickstarter campaign provided enough start-up capital for production, and today, Whitehead’s creation is nationally distributed. The quest for a better pan has become the reinvention of an American heirloom. “I love making something that’s going to last longer than I am,” said Whitehead.