The owners of Cook on Clay, a local business that makes flameware cooking pots, are building a new firing kiln at their location in Langley.
Robbie Lobell and Maryon Attwood are the co-founders of Cook on Clay which has been in business since 2010. Lobell has been making pots for 35 years. Attwood makes flatware, such as platters, as well as artwork. Lobell specializes in flameware, a type of clay that can withstand extremely hot temperatures. Lobell creates handmade pots and dishes that can be used on stoves, in ovens, and on grills and broilers.
“Very few potters use it,” Lobell said of flameware. She has worked with the medium since 2001.
Flameware won’t crack or experience thermal shock in high-heat cooking environments or extreme temperature changes.
The shape of the pots determines what kind of heat source can be used. For example, if the bottom of a pot is circular, it can be used on round burners on a stovetop. Long, flat pots can be used in the oven or on an oval or rectangular burner.
Conveniently, all Cook on Clay pots can go in the dishwasher.
Lobell said clay pots “participate in the cooking” more than dishes that are typically used in the culinary arts.
“Metal transfers heat from the heat source to the food,” she explained. “It doesn’t gather the heat the way clay does.”
While the clay pots take longer to heat up, they also take longer to cool down so food can stay warm longer in a clay dish even after it’s been removed from a heat source.
“It doesn’t cool down the way that metal or glass does,” Lobell said.
The pots are both pieces of art and well-crafted culinary tools.
“We make art from the kitchen to the table,” she said.
The high quality of the clay pots are attractive to professional chefs. Lobell said she collaborates with chefs to find out what they need from the pots. The Oystercatcher in Coupeville uses several Cook on Clay pots and dishes, as well as the Orchard Kitchen in Langley.
Cook on Clay was originally located in Coupeville. Lobell and Attwood leased a space where they had built a large kiln. In 2019, a new owner doubled the rent and they decided to relocate to Langley, buying and renovating a property for a studio and storefront space.
“Before we bought the property, we worked with the city of Langley to make sure we could build a kiln here,” Lobell said. “It was a long process.”
Lobell said she is happy to have the kiln right next to her studio again.
“Rather than driving up to Coupeville at four in the morning, I can just step out in my pajamas and see how it’s going,” she said.
Ted Neal, a ceramics professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, came all the way to Whidbey Island to deconstruct the old kiln. He used the same bricks to build the new kiln. Lobell decided the new kiln would be 25% smaller so she can more frequently fill it up to fire pots.
Once pots are fired in the kiln, the clay hardens and “can no longer be returned to the earth,” as Lobell described it. The temperature in the kiln can reach up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It is probably the most important tool I have,” Lobell said.
The kiln is outside and will have a metal structure around it so that it can be used in any weather. After that is built, Lobell will be able to hook up the propane burners, which supply the heat.
“Firing is an art in itself,” she said. “It’s about manipulating the fuel and air to provide the atmosphere and how the heat builds in there.”
Lobell said a lot of people in the community have noticed the construction which is on the side of the road.
“It wasn’t part of the plan but it is bringing more people in,” she said.
Lobell plans to engage the community more by offering workshops and making the kiln available to other potters. People are welcome to make what are known as “kiln gods,” small clay figurines that bring good luck to kiln firings.
Lobell said the kiln will be up and running by the end of September.