The Imbiber Vs. Non-Stick Skillets

The universe doesn't eat your soul in one gulp. It savors every morsel. I know exactly where I was when it last took a bite out of me. It was last September, in the cookware section of the Bed, Bath & Beyond in Culver City, California.

At first I didn't even know I was wounded. My girlfriend and I needed frying pans. In the past, this particular task had required a bare minimum amount of thought and effort on my part. Indeed, up until that day, I'd spent roughly the same amount of time pondering frying pan design as I had writing out thank you cards to aggressive student loan officers.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, appears to have minored in Skillet Science in college.

"Are you crazy?" she shouted, practically swatting me over the head with a Teflon pan I'd indiscriminately plucked from a shelf. "We're not buying that!"

She then offered up an impassioned indictment of the non-stick coating used in Teflon pans, claiming it releases toxic gases and has been linked to cancer and all sorts of other gross health problems. Oh, and it also inexplicably kills cute little birds... and not just when frying them.

I countered weakly with, "Yeah, but Teflon's, like, easy to clean and stuff." She looked at me with a mix of disgust and pity that has become strangely comforting to me, especially after sex.

In the end, "not getting cancer" beat "not having to scrub the dirty pan too hard," with a key assist from "me not giving a shit." We left Bed, Bath & Beyond with a shiny new $60 12-inch skillet from Cuisinart's GreenGourmet™ line.

"It's completely free of PTFE and PFOA!" she exclaimed, with a level of enthusiasm that, frankly, I found a bit WTF. "And its petroleum-free ceramic-based nonstick interior helps to conserve oil consumption!"

"Okay, babe, sure... but remember – it's just a frying pan."

She shot me that look again, which I interpreted to mean she was ready to go home and have sex.

I should be clear. The first two months we spent with our GreenGourmet™ skillet were simply wonderful. The non-stick surface was sufficiently non-sticky and, I'm happy to say, not a single bird was harmed in the making of our meals. Unless you count chickens. We harmed the shit out of some chickens. Oh, and there was that time we had sautéed spotted owl.

But roundabout November the pan's surface began to deteriorate rapidly. It looked peeled and distorted and unnatural, as though I were cooking chicken cutlets on Jocelyn Wildenstein's face.

I called Bed, Bath & Beyond, and spoke with someone who suggested that the "easiest thing to do" would be to deal directly with Cuisinart. He was incorrect. There were several easier paths. One of which involved shoving the pan up my own my ass until it lodged in my small intestine.

A customer service rep from Cuisinart instructed me to ship the defective pan via UPS (at my own expense) to their factory in East Windsor, NJ, where it would be "evaluated." I was also instructed to include a check for $7 to cover the cost of shipping either a refurbished or replacement pan back to me, assuming whoever did the evaluating there reached the same conclusion I had – that the pan was fucked up. I was told this would take 4-6 weeks. That was November 21st.

Seven weeks later I called Cuisinart for a status report on the as-yet-unreturned skillet. The customer service rep I spoke with informed me that the pan was still undergoing evaluation, which led me to wonder aloud what could possibly be so difficult to assess about this frying pan's condition.

"The coating on the pan is chipping off," I said. "Pretty simple, really."

Ah, but it wasn't. Simple, that is. According to the customer service rep, there were all sorts of things that might be wrong with a skillet. Terrible, unexpected things. A thorough evaluation was essential, not only to ensure the continued functionality of my pan, but the integrity of the entire GreenGourmet™ line as well.

She made me feel important, actually. It was as if by allowing Cuisinart's crack team of scientific professionals to spend months on end carefully analyzing every square inch of my defective skillet, I was actually saving lives. And that's pretty goddamn awesome. Even if they are just birds' lives.

She ended the call with an assurance that I'd have either a new or refurbished skillet in my possession no later than the end of January.

In the beginning of February I called Cuisinart for a status report on the now-supposed-to-be-in-my-possession skillet. The customer service rep I spoke with this time wasn't nearly as supportive. Hell, she was downright unpleasant. She seemed so full of contempt for me, in fact, that I began to wonder if she wanted to have sex. (Yes, I am aware I need help.)

I couldn't understand why she was being so mean, either. Sure, I've long suspected that customer service departments are intentionally designed to be so difficult to deal with that the aggrieved simply give up, but this was another level of mistreatment altogether. Of course, Cuisinart does sound vaguely French. Maybe that was it.

The rep told me flatly that the pan was still undergoing analysis, to which I replied, "sheesh, what is this pan, Richard Lewis or something?"

The joke fell flat (I've found psychotherapy-related gags are hit-and-miss with customer service people) and she informed me that my skillet evaluation would be finished "when it's finished." She urged me to be patient, adding that the folks on the Cuisinart evaluation team are "extremely busy"... unlike, say, jerks who have hours upon hours to waste trying to get a goddamn frying pan fixed.

She ended the call by telling me to "have a nice day." I was able to translate that into the common English phrase "go fuck yourself." One day I hope to be fully fluent in Call Center Dickwad.

This understandably put me over the edge, so I decided to pull out the heavy artillery. I found an email address for someone in Cuisinart's media relations department, and proceeded to fire off a strongly worded complaint in which I made it known that I happen to be a columnist for a rather influential website that caters to people who care a great deal about frying pans.

And, oh, how things suddenly started happening then. Emails were sent. Phone calls were made. Apologies were offered. Within 24 hours I received notice that the evaluation of my skillet was complete, and that it had been determined the pan was in worse shape than the Cuisinart Customer Service Department. I would be receiving a brand new replacement. Indeed, they would be shipping it to me immediately.

So I won, right? Maybe. But it's a hollow victory at best. Sure I'm getting a new pan, but only after spending an insane amount of time dealing with this issue, and then still having to resort to what is, frankly, a conspicuously dickish move — playing the media card.

Frying up the tiny carcasses of dead fowl, slathering them in mayonnaise and salt, and then devouring them whole has always been one of my greatest pleasures. But now, in the wake of this ordeal, every time I use that skillet (assuming it eventually does arrive) I'll be reminded of the bite-sized hole in my soul, left behind by a cruel and ravenous universe.

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Read the previous installment of The Imbiber on Food Republic.