Plate Expectations of Ceramics and Chefs

By Smith, Penny | Ceramics Art & Perception, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Plate Expectations of Ceramics and Chefs


Smith, Penny, Ceramics Art & Perception


PLATE EXPECTATIONS IS AN EXPLORATION OF THE relationship that a number of contemporary potters in various parts of the world are currently having with top, internationally renowned chefs. Making pottery for the table is not a new concept--obviously--potters have been producing

handmade functional tableware for cooking and eating since pottery making began. But since the industrialisation of the tableware industry, the world has been supplied with affordable, often well-designed, mass-produced ware that has competed with handmade studio pottery, particularly within the public domain of the well-laid restaurant table.

Until recently that is, when handmade studio ware has taken on greater currency due, partly, to the rise in popularity of the cookbook. As a self-confessed cookbook collector; an avid reader of all things related to cuisine and its presentation and sensitive to eating good tucker off fine ware, I have been aware of changing culinary fashions as they have occurred over the years and correspondingly, the evolving nature of tableware.

The chefs, their restaurants and the artists who created the tableware that is represented here, are obviously a heavily biased selection - there are, of course, many other examples of fine cuisine and fabulous tableware. The following choices, however, reflect some interesting developments into culinary trends that have driven a unique approach to the plating, or presentation, of restaurant food.

In introducing UK based potter Takeshi Yasuda's interest in the rituals of dining, I once wrote that ["If the table upon which a meal is performed is the stage, the pots must be the actors, the food is the story and the kitchen the dressing room.". sup. 1] The idea of 'theatre' in relation to fine dining is also at the heart of this article and the pots, potters and the chefs are, in this instance, the main performers.

Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago must arguably rate as one of the most theatrical of chefs, on a par with Heston Blumenthal (Fat Duck in the UK) and Ferran Adria i Acosta (elBulli in Spain). In the TV series "Heston's Feasts" for example, dining as theatre and entertainment is illustrated at its best, the heart of which is driven by Blumenthal's serious research interests into science and history.

Achatz on the other hand, modestly refers to his own cuisine as 'progressive American' - food that builds a series of complex experiences for his guests that will titillate all their senses. Theatre it is though and a typical example would be Achatz's presentation of dessert at Alinea, which has attained 'high art' status. Dessert therefore, starts by laying down a silicone tablecloth before the guests. A culinary artwork

consisting of creams, sauces and crumbles is then 'painted' directly onto the tabletop and applied with Pollock like strokes and gestures. A 'smoking' sphere sits quietly centre stage until tapped and broken by the dessert chef. The shattered chocolate sphere spills its contents onto the table's surface, leaving the exhilarated guests to pick and eat the artistic debris with their fingers. High drama.

Despite the apparent lack of dessert ware in this instance, Achatz presents his courses in the main, on and in a series of porcelain and mixed media ware that is intended to create a series of sensory and visual experiences for the diner. Achatz works closely with designer Martin Kastner, whose multidisciplinary design company Crucial Detail is also situated in Chicago. Kastner's design approach often starts from the diner's viewpoint, in that he attempts to create a heightened awareness of the dining experience through the utensils employed during the course of the meal. But as Kastner points out, the design process is inevitably intertwined with the dialogue he has with the chefs, each sparking ideas from the discipline of the other. Therefore, the working relationship between Kastner and Achatz works on an equal partnership--Achatz might make an approach to the designer with a culinary idea, or Kastner might approach the chef with a service concept. …

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