Good Old-Fashioned Online Trolling Inspired Made In’s Newest Product
The squeaky wheel gets the (fish) oil.
Fermín Núñez needed a fish basket. Specifically, he needed a good fish basket, one that wouldn’t break after a mere month of use at his Mexican-inspired restaurant Suerte in Austin.
“We just constantly were replacing them,” he says. Either the handle would break off, or the closure would come loose. He kept repurchasing them anyway, as he relies on the tool to efficiently grill whole fish. The flat wire apparatus, which encases the fish, gets the meat close to the coals to ensure a nice char, without risking it sticking to the grill. And the versatile contraption’s uses aren’t limited to fish—Núñez finds it handy for grilling octopus and even smaller bits of food like shrimp and vegetables, as the basket allows him to flip multiple pieces in one swift maneuver.
The chef had begrudgingly accepted that there simply wasn’t anything well-designed on the market.
But in 2019, a lead materialized. Having crossed paths with cookware brand Made In’s co-founder Jake Kalick at various culinary events over the years, Núñez recognized the entrepreneur during the Austin Food & Wine Festival’s “Rock Your Taco” event. The two wound up joining a group of mutual friends for drinks later that evening, during which Kalick told Núñez to reach out if he ever needed cookware. “Without even thinking, I was like, ‘You know, a fish basket would be nice,’” says Núñez, who proceeded to excitedly anticipate that his new fast friend might finally bring this much-needed dream product to life.
…Until there was no follow-up. In good fun, Núñez began tagging Kalick on Instagram anytime Made In launched a new product. “Check out this new shipment of pots and pans—maybe there’s a fish basket under here!” Núñez recalls teasing on social media. “Product team, hurry up with the fish basket, will you?” Soon, other chefs joined in the light-hearted trolling.
While planning a paella party for a gathering of South by Southwest attendees in early 2020, Kalick and Núñez began hanging out more and seriously discussing the possibility of developing a product together. Kalick points out that Made In frequently receives requests from chefs to design new tools, though the cookware company isn’t able to accommodate everyone’s wishes. But after noticing how many chefs were chiming in on Núñez’s social media campaign, Kalick realized that many restaurants were dealing with the same deficiency.
Research and development, it turned out, was not as straightforward as Núñez had expected. “From my point of view, it’s two pieces of wire together. Put one on top of the other. You open it. You close it,” he says. “You put a fish inside of it, you put it on the grill. Done. Boom.” Made In’s specialties, though, were materials like ceramic and copper. Wire was relatively new to the team, who needed to learn how to source and work with it. Made In also had to experiment with existing fish baskets to figure out what shortcomings the team could improve upon.
Throughout the process, Kalick frequently turned to Núñez for guidance on what a great fish basket should entail. “It was the little details he brought that we would never have thought of,” says Kalick. Situating the grates of the wire platforms in a specific slant, for example, made it easier to slide the fish out for plating. The room in between the two layers of wire also had to be spacious enough to hold a whole fish, but not so narrow as to crush it. And the spacing of the grates had to accommodate ingredients of all different sizes and ensure small bits wouldn’t fall through. “When someone like Fermin is willing to give us the feedback on what needs to change,” says Kalick, “that's the best R&D we can get.”
Made In’s fish basket officially hit the market last month and sold out in a few hours. Kalick and the Made In team are working on a restock, expected in early 2023. Meanwhile, Núñez, having stocked up on the new product, is happily using them at his just-opened restaurant Este, which specializes in Mexican-inspired seafood dishes and utilizes charcoal as the primary means of cooking.
In the end, not only did Núñez get his dream product, he also, perhaps more importantly, made a lifelong friend. Even though the pair have only been close pals for a few years, the details of how they met are already blurry—after undertaking this complicated project together, they say it feels like they’ve been friends for ages. “It's kind of like telling [the story of] how you met your significant other,” Núñez jokes.
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