When I was a younger and more culinarily innocent person whose personal batterie de cuisine consisted of one pot, one frying pan, one mixing bowl, one cookie sheet, a waffle iron, and a steak knife, I lived in an apartment with a complete set of Le Creuset cookware. It was all in classic Flame. The roommate who brought it had to buy a separate set of shelves from IKEA to accommodate it all.
“Huh,” I said, hefting the grill pan. “This will be good for fending off home invaders.”
My roommate ignored me because, of course, I was a complete idiot, unaware of the magical heat-retaining properties of Le Creuset cookware. Had this article from Fortune existed back then, and had I read it, I would have held the Le Creuset set in the awe which it was due.
(As it happened, I never touched it because we had no home invaders and I was wary of using expensive cookware that belonged to someone else that I did not understand.)
Le Creuset, which translates to “the crucible,” was founded 96 years ago in Fresnoy-le-Grand, a small town in northeast France that happened to be at the shipping crossroads of iron, coke, and sand, the essential materials for making enameled cast iron cookware. Until 1988, when the company was acquired by Paul Van Zuydam, a South African/British businessman, about half its sales were to the French market. Now it’s just 3%.
Van Zuydam told Fortune that he could save a great deal of money (and perhaps pass those savings onto customers) if he moved production to Asia, like so many other companies have done, but he is committed to staying in Fresnoy-le-Grand and paying his employees reasonable wages for a 35-hour workweek. It probably helps that people consider paying $160 for a Le Creuset casserole an investment in quality cookware, not a total ripoff; Van Zuydam expects the company will clear $750 million this year and is aiming for $1 billion by 2025, its centennial. The Fresnoy-le-Grand production facility was recently upgraded (to the tune of $215 million) so it would be more environmentally friendly; Le Creuset products now contain recycled metal. The factory is capable of producing 25,000 pieces per day.
Now the exciting part: Le Creuset has made cookware in 100 colors by now, including some pots that bear the logos of Major League Baseball teams. Glittery pink is particularly prized by collectors; it was a limited edition produced at the behest of the company’s representatives in Japan, and you can now find it on eBay for five or six times its original asking price. You know, in case you’re wondering what to get for that special glittery-pink-loving person in your life. Anyway, it’s always good to know the history behind aspirational cooking products.