Potters and Chefs
I’ve only had a few experiences with handmade dinnerware in a restaurant setting. One was in Columbus, Ohio, which is where I live, and the other was in Kansas City, Missouri, during the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference.
In Columbus, I was at Till: Dynamic Fare (since closed, as the owners moved to Detroit), which was a restaurant that sourced local ingredients and also worked with a local potter, Jenny Floch, to create the dinnerware. Early on, Floch supplied them with mugs and water pitchers, and the collaboration grew until she had created everything they needed, minus the flatware. The pots were sturdy stoneware, with earthy glazes that perfectly complimented the farm-to-table food.
In Kansas City, we met with the Ceramics Monthly advisory board at a restaurant called The Farmhouse that focused on using local ingredients. The chef, Michael Foust, asked for notes on everyone’s dietary restrictions as well as favorite ingredients ahead of time, then created an amazing bread pudding for us (2). Sadly, I don’t have a photo of the dish, as I was too focused on eating it! What made the food even more satisfying was learning that he used one of Robbie Lobell’s Cook on Clay flameware covered casseroles to create the bread pudding. (The chef had participated in Lobell and Maryon Attwood’s The Heartland Table pre-conference event earlier in the week.) Chef Foust generously took time to meet with us after the meal was served and show us the casserole dish. He talked about his excitement in figuring out what was possible when cooking with this new tool, and was excited to do so for a group of ceramic artists and instructors as well, as we would appreciate how special the cookware was.
Seeing this chef explore the possibilities with Lobell’s casserole dish, reminded me of the excitement of figuring out what a new tool could help me do in the studio. Unlike my tentative first tries with new tools though, the chef was already getting great results.
A few months later, I had the opportunity to hear Lobell talk about her business and her pots while attending the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts’ Utilitarian Clay VII Symposium in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Her passion for making flameware, including testing prototypes in her own kitchen, then refining them until they feel right, reminded me of the meal at The Farmhouse in Kansas City. Specifically, it made me think about the excitement the chef expressed when he was given the parameters of the meal and had the opportunity to add meaning to the menu by linking the local community via the ingredients used and the visiting clay community via Lobell’s pot.
These events, in part, led to this issue’s focus on the interrelated worlds of chefs and potters. There is the obvious practical connection but there’s also a deeper recognition of a shared value system. The emphasis on creativity, hard work, skill, and functionality in both fields opens up collaborative opportunities that elevate both the food and the pots.
We interviewed potter Jane Herold, Studio Pieter Stockmans, and Nathaniel Mell and Wynn Bauer of Felt+Fat studio about their experiences teaming up with chefs and the exponential exposure that having their dinnerware in restaurants can bring. We also got the chefs’ take on collaborating with each potter, from producing new dinnerware for their restaurants to creating a gourmet pop-up dining experience in a studio.
These collaborations have an additional value, in that they give both parties the rare opportunity to see what they do from a different perspective. So, whether you want to work with a chef, or are just curious to learn about or get feedback from someone in another creative field, I encourage you to strike up a conversation.