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The Five Hundred Dollar Pot

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I was given a private tour of the Kuhn Rikon factory near Zurich, who makes some of the best cookware in the world.

Kuhn Rikon [koon reekon] makes cookware that has become a byword for durability. Their Duromatic pressure cookers enjoy a cult status among home chefs. At the factory, people turn up with pressure cookers they've been using on a daily basis for 20 years or more and ask for a replacement rubber seal. Most Kuhn Rikon pots come with a 10 year warranty, but the factory keeps spare parts for 15 years. Most pots sell for about $150 - a hefty price, but over 20 years that's only $7.50 a year. How many Ikea pots will last you 20 years? Bye bye, WMF, Fagor, Presto. Here cometh the Swiss Pressure Cooker.

The New York Times called this "The Mercedes-Benz of pressure cookers" and it's the favorite pressure cooker of Madhur Jaffrey, the English goddess of Indian cooking I had to investigate. Follow me into the factory and see how these legendary pots are made. Don't miss my 360 Quicktime Panorama (4500Kb)!

The Kuhn Rikon factory is located in a beautiful valley half an hour northeast of Zurich. As the GPS led me through tiny backroads, I could not believe the stupefying beauty of the landscape. Postcard-like farms, cows, meadows all over a rolling countryside bathed with sun. The locals certainly drew a lucky number at the cosmic lottery.

A casual glance at my pictures might lead you to believe that the factory has been secretly moved to China, for many of the employees at Kuhn Rikon are not Swiss but Tibetan. How come? Jacques and Henri Kuhn, the brothers who owned Kuhn Rikon in the late 1950s once attended a conference by Mrs Sprngli, a chocolate industrialist much taken with Tibet. When they heard about the sorry business of the Chinese invading Tibet, ransacking the temples, imprisoning the monks and driving out the population, they decided to help the Tibetans however they could. Not by placing 'Free Tibet' stickers on the car or writing letters. Jacques Kuhn called the Red Cross, a Swiss organization that helps political refugees, and said they had plenty of free space in their employee lodgings. 'They also need a job', said the Red Cross. 'No problem, we'll hire them at the factory', answered the brothers. These Tibetan families have worked at the factory ever since. It has proved mutually beneficial, as industrial jobs in rural areas are not always easy to staff in Switzerland.

The Tibetans were a bit lost in Switzerland at first, arriving into a modern consumption society much different from the one they left at home. Seeing that his loyal Tibetan employees needed some spiritual support to face this whole new life, Jacques Kuhn called the Dalai Lama and asked if he could come and speak to his people. He did, and as a result a beautiful Tibetan temple was built in the woods above the factory. The Dalai Lama still visits regularly. All this happened decades before it was fashionable to feel for the Tibetan people. Nowadays, when you cross the village of Rikon, you see Swiss people of Tibetan descent all over the place. I even had lunch at a restaurant called 'Tibet Pizza'. If you cook with a Kuhn Rikon pot, it will have been made at some point or another by one of the descendants of these Tibetan refugees. They are all Swiss now, so if below you read 'Tibetan', it is really 'Swiss of Tibetan descent' of course. I think the factory can be proud of this and one can only wish that all refugees were like those Tibetans - hard working, modest and happy to live in this haven of peace and prosperity at the foot of the Swiss Alps.

Meet Mr Thibten Dhakyel, who just finished his adjustment in the world of dust inside the so called 'round table' machine. In the past, most pots were polished using this circular arrangement to keep the dust inside.

Mr Dhakyel feeds the machine with the lids arriving on the upper orange conveyor belt, and takes them out on the lower, green belt after processing. (2000-pixels-wide panorama, JPEG, 629Kb)

To produce mass market items in Switzerland, even of such high quality, mechanization is needed. Here is Kuhn Rikon's modern production line for the Duromatic pressure cookers. Above is a preview of a 360 Panorama (4500Kb, Quicktime) of Francesco Landi's workspace. He and his colleague Mr Dangman transform steel dics into pressure cookers using huge 10-ton press.

A chromium nickel steel disc is placed by Mr Thubten Dangma in the giant press ...

... then the press pushes down a giant piston with every last gram of its 10-ton might.

Up it goes, revealing the body of a pressure cooker, dripping from the soap liquid inside the mold. How you can turn a disc into a pan by merely pushing it into shape, I can't get my mind around. There are no tears, no cracks, no thinning around the edges. It's nothing short of miraculous.

We now leave this Tibetan gentleman to visit the other side of the press ...

... where Mr Francesco Landi, a modern-day Hephaestus, operates another press that will carve out the pressure cooker's edges so that you can lock the lid.

The press does not fit in a conventional kitchen! If you draw to close, a light beam detects your presence and turns it off automatically before you are turned into a human pressure cooker.

The man places one pressure cooker after the other, waits for the press to do what it does, then takes it out.

Mrs Rosmarie Werner oversees a crucial part of the production process. She takes a pressure cooker body, places it upside down on one of the three sticks in front of her, then covers the pot's bottom with an aluminium disc covered with another disc of stainless steel. The aluminium will ensure even spreading of the heat, an essential feature in any kitchen. The pot heats through induction, much like it would on a fancy induction stove, and the aluminium disk is sealed.

The lady removes the pots and places them into a cooling bath. 'That's the most high-tech part of the factory', my guide jokes, 'a plain water bath'.

At the other end of the bath the pots are milled so that the welding around the aluminium core is evened out by Mrs Danzengyuzhen Lekden. On the picture you see the scrapings.

But it's not all manual work. From now on, a string of robots take over. They are lined up in the factory the length of a city block, most of them entirely hidden in blue boxes to keep the metal dust in. The robots do the hard work - polishing. Pots arrive on a conveyor belt above the machine. The robots detects the arrival of a new pot, grabs it with a suction valve pressed flat agains the inside of the pot ...

... then swiftly moves it on a succession of wheels that gives it its beautiful shine.

End of the line, with mirror-smooth pressure cookers coming one after the other...

... while on the other side of the factory the lids arrive under the eyes of a Tibetan lady sipping some tea.

We witnessed a highly intriguing scene. This lady, Mrs Kalsang Samling, taps each pot a few times with a curious copper rod. Some propitiatory ritual to wish the users of the pot 1001 happy meals? Not quite.

She inspects each pot to see the tiniest flaw, then grades the pot from AAA - worthy of selling in regular shops to AA for those pots with a minute flaw, some microscopic discoloration you'd need a loupe and 2 hours to find. AA pots are sold in the factory shop (see below). All those below AA are destroyed.


The pots are stored in cardboard boxes, then piled up 50 to a pallet. The pallets are moved in a huge automated warehouse with a 7000-pallet-capacity.

Here is now FXcuisine.com's hot tip. Next to the factory is a huge factory shop that sells the entire range, and then some, at a hefty discount. All pots are AA grade, which means there is somewhere a minute flaw. Most probably you'll never find it as the quality standards are very high.

I literally filled my car with Kuhn Rikon cookware (I paid for it in case you wonder!). Amazing stuff. One cast iron frying pan alone is so big you could easily feed all contestants for Star Chef for a month out of one panful only. Or sit on it and slide down a ski slope. Or bathe in it.

Kuhn Rikon makes all sorts of cookware beyond their flagship pressure cooker. Here is one of the Durotherm pots, they go for about $200 on Amazon.com. The pot is double-walled and has a thick but light lid and a double base to keep the contents hot. It's just about the smartest pot I've seen so far. You can heat up a liquid with less energy, and then keep it warm for 2 hours. I'll be back with another article soon to report on my testing this amazing technology.

Kuhn Rikon
Neschwilerstrasse 4
CH-8486 Rikon
Switzerland (30 minutes north of Zurich)
Tel. +41 52 396 01 01, Fax +41 52 396 02 02
E-Mail kuhnrikon@kuhnrikon.ch
Kuhn Rikon on Amazon.com :

Mr Marc Huber of Kuhn Rikon kindly took me on a personal tour, but you can visit as a regular tourist. They have a museum, a cookery school and organize factory tours if you book. And please, do not miss the amazing factory shop!



Thank you, thank you, that was a wonderful tour. I always knew my new Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker was special but it's great to see where it came from.
Very cool photos!  I am a big mauviel copper fan and use mostly copper in my own kitchen. At work I use Canadian pans made by Paderno which I love. That said, a pan that is energy efficient and thermal for 2 hours would beat either of these two lines in a performance test.
  • #3
  • Comment by Ben
Wow, I've seen these all over and almost bought a frying pan the other day but wasn't sure of the quality. Now you have convinced me to perhaps slowly phase out my (new) WMF set and start over with Kuhn Rikon, albeit slowly!
  • #4
  • Comment by Octavian
That is fascinating. Too bad I don't live in Switzerland or I'd fill my car with their stuff too.
  • #5
  • Answered by fx
Manda, thanks for visiting and hold to your Kuhn Rikon cooker, that's one hell of a serious kitchen appliance! It won't let you down and the people at the factory will even try to find you spare parts if you come with it in 20 years time!
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Dana, thanks for your visit! Yes, copper has better heat conductivity than aluminium in the Kuhn Rikon pots,  but their thermal insulation system is really unique. You can turn off the pot and leave the pot to simmer for a couple hours. I'm going to make some  comparative tests of copper-steel, cast iron, steel-aluminium and cast aluminium pans. Do you have any suggestions?
Hope to see you back on FXcuisine!
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
Ben, make sure you buy one of their really heavy pans and not one of Kuhn Rikon's cast aluminium range, these are more like regular pans. But the big, anvil-heavy Duroply or Multiply pans are just amazing!
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Octavian, perhaps you can find a local pot factory that offers similar deals. It was a very long drive for me if it's any consolation, I could almost not close the doors because of the bulk!
  • #9
  • Comment by vaio
Better then "How It's Made" on Discovery Channel.

Can you advice on an english language on-line shop that can ship this in Romania? I found some swiss websites but with no english translation unfortunately. And there is no trip on site to Switzerland.

Thank you!
Thanks for the tour. I do need a pressure cooker and this could be the one. Glad to see behind the scenes.
My bean-rice vegeterian meat recipe is on my blog now.
Thanks for the tour.  I sell Kuhn Rikon in my store and all of their products are great.  Its nice to get to see the people making the pots I sell.
  • #12
  • Comment by Rick
The Kuhn Brothers must have been (are still? Are either alive?) very great men. Their compassion and sympathy stand as an example that is rare in this world. Belief, backed up by action. It makes me want to learn more about them. Brilliant!

Nice pots too.
  • #13
  • Comment by Mike
Hm...I think that I'm in for a drive this summer. I could make it down from Stockholm in a couple of days. Totally worth it.
  • #14
  • Comment by cheese_puff
Very informative!! I just shared this with all my chinese friends--they are very impressed and will buy those pots for sure!
  • #15
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
Francois. Have you ever made a pressure cooker recipe...

The products do look good and the intake of of dispossessed Tibetans does raise your hope in human nature.
I wish we all could achieve what the brothers did.

  • #16
  • Answered by fx
Vaio, thanks for visiting! You can buy this from Amazon.com, if they ship to Romania.
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
Thanks Gayle, look carefully when you buy, some of these pressure cookers come with two lids, one pressure lid and another heat-preserving insulating lid that will keep your beans hot for 2 hours. Great stuff!
  • #18
  • Answered by fx
Rob, thanks for visiting, where is your shop? How do you rate Kuhn Rikon's pots compared to other brands?
  • #19
  • Answered by fx
Rick, I think Jacques Kuhn is still around, of course very decent people, and they sure look after their Tibetan staff. But at the end of the day both the factory and the Tibetans made a good deal!
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
Mike, if you drive down make sure to take a minivan so you can stock up on Kuhn Rikon!
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
Cheese puff, thanks for the visit, I've seen the post in Chinese about my article from my logs, what do you friends say? Industrial facilities are common in China, is there much difference? Did they say anything about the Tibetan angle?
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
Paul, I'll go buy a saucepan factory and hire some people in need! My first recipe in the pressure cooker are roesti, not fancy but very much in character with the cooker.
My shop is in Silver City, New Mexico, USA.  We selected KR pots (and gadgets) after looking at all of the known brands in the US, and also reading a lot of reviews.  What we found is that while you pay just a little more, the benefits far outweigh that small price increase.  Specifically, we found that their pots are extremely safe versus most of the other pressure cookers, and we use many of their items in our commercial kitchen and none have given us any trouble.  Its simply a quality product.
  • #24
  • Comment by TZ
Francois,  Thanks for another look inside a Swiss factory.  I am the proud owner of a KR pressure cooker for about a year now but I've only used it to cook dry beans and artichokes so far.  I have several Madhur Jaffrey books and have learned a bit about using a pressure cooker from her, but I won't be able to properly imitate a Swiss housewife without being able to prepare more dishes " la marmite pression."

I can perhaps make a trip to Rikon but have to figure out how to get all that cookware into the car without my husband noticing!  Wish me luck ;-)
  • #25
  • Comment by Susan Marm
Your website is excellent - this was a particularly interesting entry, I have loved factory tours since I was a child.  Want...to...go...to...factory outlet!
Have made your chestnut tart to great accliam and posted on it - and the website - on Chowhound.com (under my screen name, buttertart).  Cheers and thanks, Susan
  • #26
  • Comment by vaio
Hello FX! Thanks for the advice, but Amazon doesn't ship anything to Romania except books, but furtunatly I sent an e-mail directly to Kuhn Rikon and now my pressure cooker is on the road to Romania.
I am soon going to be investing in cookware so I think you most sincerely for this tour and info.
  • #28
  • Answered by fx
TZ, have you thought about buying some pressure cooker books?
  • #29
  • Answered by fx
Susan thanks for visiting and trying the lengthy but delicious Pierre Herm chestnut tart - I saw your article on Chowhound. Well done!
  • #30
  • Answered by fx
Vaio, I wish you fun with your Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker!
  • #31
  • Answered by fx
Cynthia, in the long run cookware takes more space in the pantry than in the budget, so I recommend you invest in good quality pots that will last you a lifetime rather than stuff your kitchen cupboards with low quality pots you are bound to have to replace before long.
Wow! I've got a whole set of these babies and I didn't know they were that amazing. They are great pots to use I know but the technology just blew me away! Very informative!
  • #33
  • Answered by fx
Bento thanks for visiting, cooking bento boxes on Kuhn Rikon pots seems like the best of both world!
  • #34
  • Comment by Jaunty
I just got a Duromatic Hotel pressure cooker off my wife for Christmas and found this massively interesting story. Thanks so much for posting. Now to try some super fast curry making!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Jaunty, glad you liked it!

I’ve been using a Kuhn Rikon pressure cooekr in my Modernist take on a domestic kitchen since Heston Blumenthal started promoting the technology for making stocks, a task for which it excels as underscored in MC.Having tried all the other purported uses for pressure cooking I’ve come to the conclusion that a major reason they fell out of favour in the 70’s and 80’s is the PR used by retailers which all centred around “4 hour beef stew in 20 minutes” and the like. I’m afraid the results are disappointing! A fact I’m sure contributed to the fall off of demand for the pressure cooekr. Now if the manufacturers hadn’t tried to promote the pressure cooking as the cooking equivalent of snake oil but had instead concentrated on it’s true strengths, stock, steaming tender meats etc, I’m sure things would be different.Cheers!Chris
  • FX's answer→ Sara I have also caught the Modernist bus and taken out my Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker for the same uses!

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