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Welding

Man the grill

By Rhonda Zatezalo

Above: Each grill is fabricated by hand. The larger grills can take upwards of 400 hours to build.

Specialist fabricator combines time-tested techniques with the latest technology to create food equipment

October 2019 - As a young boy living in Atlanta, Chris Demant loved to build things. He made his first sale, of a piece of handcrafted furniture, before he was old enough to drive. He moved back to his native Denmark while still a child, then returned to Atlanta at age 25 with his wife. Following a decade of fabricating stainless steel components for the food and dairy industry across Europe and Asia, Demant dreamed of owning his own business. He founded Reclaimed by Demant, a company specializing in handcrafted, custom-designed furniture and fixtures using reclaimed items and vintage fabrication techniques.

Not long after returning to Georgia, a local, award-winning chef approached Demant to build a custom grill for his restaurant. After many weeks of research and listening to the chef discuss his specifications, Demant went to work and Grills by Demant was born.

Demant designed and fabricated a modular grilling system that uses wood or charcoal as the heat source. That first grill went through rigorous testing in the kitchen and the client provided valuable feedback for improvements. Demant continued to work with his client and other food preparation industry professionals to further refine the system until it met the needs of the industrial kitchen.

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“Our grills are hearth-style and customizable to fit any kitchen,” says Demant. “The grill tower moves up or down. You can add burn boxes, rotisserie mechanisms, whatever works best for your cooking style. Each piece attaches with finger screws for quick changes. It takes almost no effort to move things around. Offering a special menu item for the month? No problem.”

To make the grills work in kitchens without a pre-existing brick hearth, Demant’s grills are lined on the sides and back with ceramic fire bricks that help direct the heat. The only modification a customer might need prior to installation is a proper ventilation hood. The grills can be mounted on casters to move around the kitchen as desired.

Challenges surmounted

Of course, there were challenges along the way. Creating an attractive, functional and highly durable product was the first obstacle. Stainless steel was the answer, but working with stainless presents its own set of complications, especially for welding. Demant struggled to find a welding power source that fit his fabrication style.

Each Demant grill is TIG welded by hand. While many fabricators prefer using a foot pedal, Demant finds them counter-productive for how he works. Experience has taught him he needed specific things from his welding machine: precise arc control, a long cord to move around his work and the ability to make minute adjustments on the fly. About a year ago, he found the Fronius MagicWave 230i.

The Fronius MagicWave 230i is a compact TIG welder with standard pulse welding capability and improved ignition properties. The intuitive interface is multilingual and can store up to 999 saved jobs with a favorites button for quick access to important parameters. Easy to use, with a modular design concept, the MagicWave can be gas- or water-cooled and used with a variety of torch bodies.

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Chris Demant possesses a positive outlook for the future of his modular grilling systems, such as this rotisserie.

“It’s the best welder I’ve ever used. Having the controls right on the torch lets me scroll up and down in amps as I move from weld to weld,” Demant says. “Some of these grills are very large, and I move around a lot. The long cord and torch controls let me work without constantly running back to the machine to make adjustments. I can work the way I want to.”

Grills by Demant builds a large variety of grills, including a personal one that can be used over any (reasonably sized) open flame. The largest industrial grill takes about 450 work hours to complete. The smaller ones take 40 to 50 hours of work. One grill can easily take a month to complete, depending on customer input, options and any customer-directed redesigns. The amount of work and time involved pushed Demant to solve another challenge: finding skilled workers.

Training talent

After completing technical school in Denmark, Demant apprenticed for four years before graduating as a fabricator specializing in stainless steel. He performs the bulk of the welding himself but is training three young workers. One employee has been with him for two years; the other two are more recent hires.

Demant and his wife, Ann, who handles the non-fabrication end of the business, plan to launch an apprenticeship program. The program, to last two to three years, will teach employees all aspects of fabrication. It will allow students to earn while they learn and go straight to work without the burden of loans.

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Grills by Demant gives chefs many ways to achieve the distinctive flavors that come only from grilling over a wood fire.

Welding and finishing stainless steel can be difficult. Demant advises new fabricators to find a talented and passionate craftsman to learn from and then have patience. “Learn to have an eye for detail,” he suggests. “With stainless steel, any imperfections will be visible. Measure in millimeters and be precise. Good work takes time to learn. Don’t give up just because it’s hard.”

A creator and artist at heart, Demant has numerous ideas for new modular aspects of his grills and other equipment for restaurant kitchens. As his employees take on more of the fabrication work, it will free up his own time to design and refine these ideas. Though Demant loves the work itself, he says he wants to realize long-term creative visions.

Every Demant grill is customized and made personal to the client. Personalizations include logo cutouts in the fireboxes, signs and other touches that make each product unique. Demant says he has been lucky to work with some amazing clients.

“My first client was a very famous Southern chef. People recognize him and he’s won several awards. I’ve learned a lot from him and from each one of my clients. They all have different needs in the kitchen, and I hope my grill system allows them to make the changes they need week to week.” FFJ

Sources

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