Forged In Tradition
Forging is an industry hammered right into the foundations of Utah’s history. Newly arrived Mormon pioneers produced nails, shod horses, erected temples, and even forged the hammer and the spike that joined the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point.
It didn’t last. Forgeries became factories, and metals became plastics. Our oceans filled with plastic straws and our smartphones became outdated before we figured out how to use them. That didn’t stop Mike Bertelsen from dreaming of the former and eschewing the latter. There was something that drew him to a rugged cauldron simmering over a roaring fire, rather than the aimless scrollings on an iPhone screen.
Mr. Bertelsen realized the power of the cauldron first-hand while working as a DC lobbyist, navigating the halls of power and bending the ears of senators on behalf of the financial industry. Despite the gravitas of the job, it lacked something solid, something he only found when he gave up the rigor of the Beltway and started blacksmithing big, heavy cooking cauldrons.
Mr. Bertelsen grew up in Brigham City. He received his law degree from The University of Utah and worked in DC, first as staff counsel for the House Banking Committee, and then as a lobbyist for the mutual fund industry to the US Senate. Despite playing in the House of Cards realm of DC politics, Mr. Bertelsen kept grounded by bowhunting near his home in Mount Vernon.
Initially, cauldron crafting was just a hobby for Mr. Bertelsen. He built his first cauldron as a way to entertain guests and cook meats over an open fire. Friends would join, and before long, he was amazed to find even cynical political operatives and lobbyists relaxing and letting their guards down around the fire. “I dubbed them the ‘Cauldron Society’ and we used to say what happens at the fire, stays at the fire,” Mr. Bertelsen says.
People offered to buy the cauldron so often that it soon became his passion project. He called it the Cowboy Cauldron, growing the company slowly until a promotion by Napastyle Dynasty’s celebrity chef, Michael Chiarello turned Mr. Bertelsen’s craft into a luxury item. Now, the hefty cauldrons are found in resort chains such as the Hilton, Montage, and Four Seasons. The Prince of Qatar even bought nine Cowboy Cauldrons in a single order.
“They are even in some royal palaces in Europe,” Mr. Bertelsen says, “But again, my biggest satisfaction is that most of them are for families.”
Currently the Cowboy Cauldron ranges from $1,700 for a “small” (a 30-inch diameter cauldron weighing 75 pounds) up to $3,000 for the “big daddy” (a 42-inch diameter cauldron weighing 220 pounds), but Mr. Bertelsen says that they are a lasting, versatile product—they can smoke and grill meats or even cook soup and chili. This year, he will roll out a smaller and more affordable cauldron, one that can be packed in the car and taken to the beach or the ski resort.
While moving from forging political connections to forging cauldrons proved enriching for Mr. Bertelsen, it wasn’t without its challenges. He learned the logistics of manufacturing and sourcing materials, while continually working to improve his product. Smaller pieces have also been designed to perfection―the grills that rest on top of the cauldrons, for example, went through seven separate design iterations before he got it right. Over time, the hard work paid off. The Cowboy Cauldron is indestructible, though Mr. Bertelsen will replace them if they break. “If someone runs over the frame with a tractor, we’ll replace it,” he says.
“I’ve never asked someone to part with their hard-earned money without me doing my best, that’s why we strive to make every piece the best that it possibly can be,” Mr. Bertelsen says. Perhaps there’s something to be said for bringing blacksmithing back to Utah. In the end, I’m sure we could all benefit from a little less time on our phones, and a little more time around the fire.