We love our Dutch oven. Really love it. It never argues over $85 billion budget cuts or sends Kardashian-sighting Tweets. And it makes one hell of a cassoulet. But we recently wondered, by sudden necessity: Is that Le Creuset lifetime warranty that we've all heard so much about really legit? "Defective cookware will be replaced free of charge, or replaced by a similar product or one of equivalent value if the product is no longer in production," according to the company website. They are promising a brand new pot.
Wait. The fine print. This is a "limited" warranty from a big corporation; we all know how this story likely ends. But last month, despite our better judgment, we shipped our pot to the company's headquarters in South Carolina. Besides, replacing it cold turkey at a (corporate) cooking shop would set us back $300. And we'd shown our patriotic support for the U.S. Post Office for the entire year (Did we mention the pot weighs a ton?), Saturday service or not. Now we got to wait five weeks to find out what that "lifetime warranty" really meant.
First, there was the issue of what qualified as "defective" cookware, to use their terms. Our Dutch oven has rarely left its post on the stovetop, despite the pile of stainless and copper pots in various sizes hanging around our kitchen. It has weathered a nightly menu of stews, beans, pastas, vegetables (sautéed/blanched/slow-cooked), pot roasts, roast chicken sickbed deliveries and the occasional pork belly disaster. Judging by the chipped enamel at the bottom, we've probably done more than the average amount of pan-searing, de-glazing and slow roasting over the past dozen years. We would say it's hardly defective. In fact, it's been pretty remarkable. Our only problem has been those few chips in the enamel, which we ignored for a full year; but recently, the chips had been getting larger and were showing up everywhere.
Which gets us to the "limited" side of that lifetime warranty. First, you must be the original user. You cannot submit your grandmother's Dutch oven for replacement (take a look at the subtle changes in Le Creuset designs over the years; it's pretty easy to tell) or the one you snatched up for $20 at a garage sale. But nice try.
According to the website, the warranty also "does not cover damage from abuse, commercial use or other non-consumer use, neglect, abnormal wear or tear, overheating, or any use not in accordance with the cookware instructions provided with the utensil." In other words, if you drop your Dutch oven and break the handle, the full warranty doesn't apply. You can, though, still send it back. We've read about several Le Creuset customers who dropped theirs and qualified for the 75% replacement discount -- you only pay 25% of the retail price. Still a pretty great deal as Le Creuset is hard to snag at a deep discount.
But we did not drop our pot. So how does Le Creuset determine whether the damage to the enamel was our fault? The corporate legalese is, not surprisingly, vague on the website. Do they consider it "abuse" to obsessively caramelize every meat and vegetable that goes in the pot? Do they define "abnormal wear or tear" as relying so heavily on one pot that we snub virtually all of our other cookware? Does "neglect" include some admittedly rather odd weekend experiments involving acidic ingredients like vinegar? Surely they would find a reason our pot did not qualify for the replacement, as this is a large corporation, not a family member or generous milk-lending neighbor. And did we mention the time we forgot about those brown sugar-laced baked beans in the oven? (End result: black beans.) A letter to Le Creuset is required detailing what is wrong with the pot; yes, we scripted it carefully. Hey, maybe we'd at least get the 75% discount.
After we shipped off the pot, we waited. And waited. How long does it takes to boil water for pasta? Not long in our Dutch oven. When you have to rummage around to find that ridiculously over-sized Williams-Sonoma "pasta" pot that you still have in a back closet (wedding gift guilt), and then wait for the excessive quantity of water to boil? A lot longer than we remembered.
And so on more than one occasion, we emailed the Le Creuset service representative, an incredibly patient woman named Cindy, to check in on our pot. Did they receive it? Was there word on the progress? Has the damage been deemed "normal wear and tear"? Without asking the latter specifically -- we all know email exchanges about excessive caramelization can be used against you these days. Could Cindy tell us ANYTHING? She politely and simply advised us that the mysterious Le Creuset corporate assessment "process" (determining how well we had treated our pot over the years) takes two to four weeks. We worried that perhaps we really did treat our beloved pot poorly. We went to the therapist. We ate a lot of salads.
When we checked back again after five weeks, Cindy emailed back to say these beautifully simple words: "Sorry for the delay. Your item [a brand new Dutch oven] has shipped via UPS ground." Tonight, we are making a cassoulet.
And in somewhat related news:
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