Get Madison Magazine delivered to your office or home.
Gift subscriptions now available!Subscribe Now
Fill in the blank: cooking with cast iron skillets is _______ (intimidating/the best/huh?). Alisa Toninato, founder of American Skillet Co. who is currently running a pop-up shop at Garver Feed Mill for the next two months, thinks you should complete the sentence with ‘fun.’ “I want to show people how these cookware are party pans,” Toninato says. “It’s all about presentation and entertainment.”
Founded in 2012, American Skillet Co. makes state-shaped cast iron pans. Based in Madison, the company gained a national following after Toninato appeared on the Martha Stewart Show in April 2012. The company was also recognized later that year as one of ten honorees of Stewart’s ‘American Made Awards’ celebrating creative business owners across the United States.
With a background in the arts — Toninato has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design — Toninato focused on cookware as a vehicle to explore social interaction with her sculptures. “I used cookware as a tool to bring people together,” she says.
Toninato also spent time in Norway studying language and literature. “I lived in a hammock for six months because I was 20 and why not?” Toninato says with a laugh. “I was studying Norwegian history and religion. I learned that they were this culture that only come into independence recently. And the way they got there was through this total pride in Norwegian life. They were different than Sweden and they were different from Denmark. They had this unique thing they were doing which was storytelling and folklore. So the arts brought the Norwegians into their independence. There was this resurgence of pride for who they were. I think I was influenced by that. I feel so kindred because being from Wisconsin we have a similar ecstaticism about being from here.”
Toninato says it was this revelation about her home state combined with her background in making cookware that led her to create her first state-shaped skillet. “It all came together, and I was like, 'I’m going to make a Wisconsin pan.' ”
Today most of her business is online but Toninato loves interacting with people to share her passion for cast iron. During October and November, Toninato and her partner, Andrew McManigal, are providing a series of classes at their current pop-up location at Garver (which is also where their art installation of a contiguous map of the United States made out of individual skillets is on display in Wisconsin for the first time). “This event at Garver is our first opportunity to have more of an experiential experience,” Toninato says. “The whole purpose of this is not just selling cookware it’s to get people’s hands on it.”
A class on Oct. 5 and Nov. 16 will focus on seasoning and caring for cast iron pans. “The two questions we get the most are, ‘what the heck would I make with this thing and how do I take care of my cast iron at home?’ ” Toninato says. “There is a lot of contradictory information on the internet about cast iron and a lot of passionate opinions about it. This whole class is designed to debunk any naysaying around iron and to expose the fact that iron is really easy [to work with.]”
Adding to the experience, these classes will take place over wood fires behind the Garver building. “A lot of time people don’t realize you can use open fire to season — it’s actually a fast way to do it,” Toninato says. “We’re going to teach you. We want to give people the confidence and inspiration and go home and be like ‘I got this.’”
Other classes will focus on making pizzas in cast iron skillets — led by Ian Gurfield of Ian’s Pizza who “exclusively uses cast iron to make pizza at home,” Toninato says — and a campfire cooking class led by “Dutch Oven Diva” Lesley Tennessen. “We want people to know that iron and fire are BFFs,” Toninato says. “You can make amazing food in a Dutch oven and we are going to make a five-course gourmet meal in four hours outside over a wood fire.”
Ss the parents of a two-year old daughter, Toninato and McManigal are also hosting a s’more making party at Garver during Gallery Night on Friday, October 4 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. This event is free and open to the public — look for the campfire outside directly behind American Skillet Co.’s pop-up shop. “You can totally make s’mores in a skillet!” Toninato says.
Toninato is really happy to have the opportunity to interact with people while American Skillet Co. temporarily takes up residency at Garver. “This is the epitome of what we built it up to be,” Toninato says. “We want to bring the energy that started this whole thing back to the business and get back to what we are all about, which is a giant party and a fire. And we are going to use this really awesome, crazy new space to do it.”
After three years of being on the road, Grasshopper Goods is hopping into its own storefront in...Read More »