The founder of Charlottesville’s Blanc Creatives, Corry Blanc, won national attention recently when his hand-forged, carbon-steel cookware was named the winner of Garden & Gun magazine’s prestigious Made in the South awards. Out of thousands of applicants and nominees, Blanc’s products—made right here in Belmont—were selected as the best cookware fabricated by a blacksmith throughout the entire southern United States.
“It’s humbling, really,” says Blanc. “But we’re happy for the attention. It goes a long way toward getting us on the map with new customers throughout the South and beyond. We’re hoping to use the momentum to continue to grow and branch out into new things.”
Here, in this statement, you get the feel for Blanc’s style: unassuming, straight-forward, overwhelmingly positive and, yes, humble. Much like a Southern gentleman—albeit one with a dark mane of long hair, calloused, grease-smeared hands and a grizzled beard.
“I grew up in north Georgia around Lake Lanier in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains,” he says. “So yes, I know a little about Southern culture.”
It was this upbringing that planted the seed for Blanc’s current success.
First, there was the fact that, for his grandmother—and pretty much everyone Blanc grew up with—the cast-iron skillet was a kitchen staple.
“Like many country people, [she] preferred to cook with a cast-iron skillet,” says Blanc. “And she made sure I knew how to as well. It was something that stayed with me.”
Always skilled with his hands, Blanc went to work for his uncle’s welding and metal fabrication business after graduating from high school, and mastered the craft of metalworking. “I was an art kid, so growing up I spent a lot of time making things,” he says.
It was during this early phase of his career that, coincidentally, while working in a restaurant kitchen, Blanc discovered carbon steel.
With all the benefits of a traditional cast-iron skillet—excellent heat retention, functionally non-stick when properly seasoned—the carbon-steel skillets (a standard in many high-end restaurant kitchens) featured the additional perks of decreased weight, increased durability and sloped sides allowing for movement in the pan (think: sautéing vegetables, frying up an omelet or pan-searing a tender cut of meat).
Initially, the observation seemed superfluous—the peculiar admiration of a craftsman, nothing more. In 2007, Blanc nabbed a job working for Charlottesville’s ultra-premium artistic forge, Stokes of England Blacksmiths, a transition that was more than enough to keep him occupied.
“It was my first taste of blacksmithing,” says Blanc. “I was completely hooked.”
After spending two years at Stokes immersed in the creation of exquisite, custom-order fireplaces, furniture, light fixtures and all sorts of other functional art products, Blanc decided it was time to go into business for himself.
In 2009, Blanc Creatives was born.
Early on, Blanc was open to doing just about anything (his first big gig entailed fabricating exercise equipment for a local gym), with most of the work coming in the form of custom, decorative ironwork for garages, garden gates, offices, homes and businesses. Eventually, there came an unexpected breakthrough.
“Thinking back to my time working in restaurants, I thought I’d try and make a carbon-steel skillet just for fun,” says Blanc. “And, one day, at a holiday market, I wound up hanging it on my stand for decoration.”
Throughout the day, customer after customer inquired about and wound up more-or-less begging Blanc to sell the skillet. Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback, he wanted to see how the product would hold up in the field.
“I’m friends with a lot of area chefs and restaurant owners,” says Blanc. “So I thought, who better to test these products?”
After fabricating and distributing a number of skillets and cassoles, the response was positive. Within a relatively short span of time, restaurants all over Charlottesville and beyond were placing orders—from farm-to-table favorite Brookville Restaurant, to Spanish enclave Mas Tapas, to Italian stalwart Tavola, Blanc’s products became a staple.
“We use them for searing meats and some seafoods,” Tomas Rahal of Mas told Garden & Gun. “We’ll even put them in the brick oven at 700, 800 degrees.”
What makes Blanc’s cookware better and more durable than the competition’s? Craftsmanship.
“We make everything entirely by hand,” he says.
The process sounds deceptively simple: Start with a 1/8″-thick piece of steel, force it into a crude version of its final shape via hydraulic press, hammer it into final form, then add the curved handle.
“It’s a really time-consuming and labor-intensive process,” says Blanc. “Each piece takes around five or six hours, and we typically repeat that process as many as 30 times a week.”
As noteworthy as the cookware may be, it’s not the only thing Blanc does. A quick visit to the Blanc Creatives website reveals a range of offerings from desks, furniture, hanging beds, staggeringly beautiful cutting boards, copper mugs, glass carafes (like something you might see on “Mad Men”) and much more.
“I’m fueled by beauty and function and a certain disdain for modern, big box, instant and disposable consumerism,” says Blanc. “I want to make heirloom products that people can pass down from generation to generation.”
To learn more, visit www.blanccreatives.com.
–Eric J. Wallace