20 Mar Living on the Baker’s Edge
by Matt Griffin
I live a dual life.
By day I work full-time as an urban planner for a mid-sized blossoming city, and by night I am a bakeware expert. Twelve months ago I formed a tiny company around a big idea, and at long last it’s finding its way into kitchens all across America.
Seven years ago I was pretty much like every other guy in his twenties: good at eating food, but not great at creating it. This wasn’t a problem until I moved away from friends and family to start my career. Without food within “mooching distance,” I was forced to learn how to make a few things, and brownie connoisseur that I was, began my first foray into box-mix brownies. However, when I baked them (or anything for that matter), I always got the same lackluster results: The edges would finish baking long before the center, and while the edge brownies were perfect, the center was still in “batter format.” If I waited for the center to finish, the edges dried out. As a guy strapped for cash, yet blessed with a hearty appetite, wasted servings were not an option; and as a corner brownie lover, I would typically just sacrifice the centers for edge perfection – which didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth.
This age-old baking problem would still be unsolved had it not been for two factors: A job I hated, and a boss who watched Oprah. My first “career job” was in an office that had all the morale of the Department of Motor Vehicles combined with the charisma of the IRS; as a new college grad, this was a tough reality for me to accept. Like many office workers I started “scheming” ways to get out (think Tom Smykowski’s “Jump to Conclusion Mat” from Office Space). One day my sullen boss (Dave for future reference) came in talking about an Oprah episode featuring a 12-year-old inventor who was already retired as a result of her “wacky plastic bacon makin’ rack.” This was the motivation I needed – from that point on, I was determined to act on good ideas. That evening, while eating a corner brownie I had just baked, it struck me that a simple redesign of the conventional baking pan could make all servings edge brownies, and eliminate the undercooked middle entirely. The Baker’s Edge was born – a pan with additional walls that would work to distribute heat evenly to every serving.
For the next few years I did hours of self-study on intellectual property rights and patent procedure; without the funds to hire an attorney, it was up to me to secure rights to my innovative bakeware concept. During this time I changed jobs and moved to the east coast with my then girlfriend/now wife Emily, and got a new job that I actually liked (sort of), but continued work on the Baker’s Edge. While we were there, Emily decided to try her hand at “escaping” the office profession as well. She had always fancied becoming a chef, and figured she would just apply for culinary scholarships. She not only got funding from the state, but was awarded a James Beard Foundation scholarship to study pastry arts at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. We picked up and moved to the Midwest immediately.
While Emily was in school, the patent for the Baker’s Edge Baking pan was issued (or the “Edge Making Baking Pan” as it is known by the Patent Office). As Emily learned the science of baking, I did as well; it quickly became apparent that baking is dependent upon exact measurements, precise timing, and the right tools. Taking advantage of her coursework and baking labs, we studied what makes existing pans less than efficient, and by using the best qualities of existing bakeware as a point of comparison, we began to create the construction plan for the Baker’s Edge. In the end, a single-piece, heavy-gauge cast aluminum pan seemed to be the best way to create efficient heat distribution. We also tweaked our handle design to eliminate one of Emily’s baking pan annoyances: handles that can’t be used after the baked good is flipped out (on existing bakeware, handles become flush with the counter when the pan is flipped over).
With our vision of the perfect pan, I set out to sell the idea to numerous bakeware manufacturers in America , with tactics ranging from cold-calling to my personal favorite of crashing the International Home and Housewares Convention posing as a manufacturer’s rep. While many places said it was a great idea, none of them thought it had “consumer merit,” mostly because, and I quote: “No one else makes something like this.” One of my favorite responses was “No, we can’t take a chance on making this pan – we just took a huge gamble by expanding our product line to include a mini-muffin pan.” Wow, that does sound risky.
Shortly after Emily graduated from Sullivan University with her pastry degree (top of her class no less) and started her new career, we decided to cash in our savings account to make Baker’s Edge prototypes, with the long-term goal of bringing our bakeware to market on our own. After getting the prototypes (which seemed amazing at the time, but look like caveman pans in comparison to the finished version) we test-baked everything imaginable. Not only did the Baker’s Edge bake evenly, but its versatility also got us really excited.
While my love of corner brownies is what spawned the creation of the Baker’s Edge, we found that it allowed bakers to reinvent difficult and messy dishes into simpler, more successful servings: With brownies, cookie bars, cakes and quick breads, every serving baked at the same temperature. As anticipated, this eliminated sloppy centers and burnt edges. At some point during our testing an open box of lasagna noodles spilled, and one uncooked noodle landed in a pan, coincidentally fitting perfectly between the interior walls. This was when we realized it could be used for layered dishes, with the interior walls of the pan keeping the servings intact. We baked lasagnas, potpies and cobblers, and found that in addition to baking evenly, the walls kept each serving nicely stacked, so the last serving looked as good as the first (after servings were removed, the remaining servings didn’t slide around and become an unappetizing pile). For a year most everything we cooked was designed around – or retrofitted into – the pan. At family gatherings I was the “odd” relative who brought “Baker’s Edge” food and evangelized about the benefits of our “weird kitchen utensil sorter-looking pan.” (Don’t ever try to be a prophet in your home town.)
The real turning point (or “tipping point” as the hip folks now call it) for the Baker’s Edge happened a year ago: Emily was a day away from giving birth to our son and she caught a television spot for an invention contest put on by Visa and hosted by MSN (the Ideas Happen contest). Instead of being nervous about becoming parents the following day, we opted to work up a contest entry. Two months later, the Baker’s Edge was announced a Grand Champion. After winning the contest, we were contacted by folks from across the country (and even a few other countries) inquiring where they could buy the pan. Needless to say, we were flipping out.
With a growing consumer demand for the Baker’s Edge (a product that had never been advertised or mass-produced), my wife and I formed a company and teamed with my former boss Dave (the Oprah watcher). Like Emily and me, Dave had been striving to make his own way, and get out of the office life. Dave’s pastime/second job was producing independent films as well as getting an MBA – a natural fit to round out our team of dream chasers.
This January our three-person team launched the Baker’s Edge Baking Pan into the marketplace. We passionately believe that it should be the American standard for baking (i.e., the one pan that everyone has in that odd metal drawer under the stove). Dave and I still work in offices – for now, and Emily is our full-time chef (and my son’s full-time mom). We hope expert and novice bakers alike will give our innovative pan a try. Regardless how our business turns out, however, at the very least I now have the ability to bake the perfect batch of brownies. From scratch.
The Baker’s Edge Pan is now available in the Gilded Fork Online Boutique!
P.S. See the decadent Baker’s Edge recipe for Mascarpone Brownies with Honey Chocolate Sauce. We’re swooning.
All photos copyright Baker’s Edge 2006. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.