Ceramic artists’ careers can consist of many different components that shift in prominence and relevance over time. One option that has started to factor as a larger percentage of annual income for a number of potters and sculptors alike involves collaborating with people trained in other creative disciplines. This includes working with chefs to provide tableware for everyday use as well as for special tasting menus or pop-up dining experiences with a focus on quality, concept, and enrichment of the dining experience.
Some artists who collaborate with chefs bring insights from behind the scenes, having worked at restaurants in roles as servers and bartenders as well as cooks and sous chefs while also building their ceramics careers. Patrick Yeung is one of those artists. He always had a passion for both the culinary and visual arts and worked in various roles in the food industry for years before studying ceramics and launching his full-time studio business. He has a standard production-ware line and also creates custom tableware for numerous high-profile restaurants in Toronto, Canada. His experience plating food, as well as handling, stacking, washing, and carrying dishes in restaurants has informed the way he designs his work, from the angle and thickness of a plate rim or the height of a foot ring to his pared-down color palette.
Similarly, Connor McGinn spent a decade working for a farm-to-table restaurant as a sous chef. The restaurant’s chefs knew he also worked with clay and asked him to make some tableware for an event, which started him on the path toward eventually opening his own studio, employing a part-time staff, and working on 10–15 orders at a time for a number of restaurants. He uses his own experience in the industry as well as feedback from chefs, line cooks, servers, and dishwashers when designing new pieces or refining forms.
While they may not have direct industry experience to reference, a number of artists learn about the potential for working with restaurants as other outlets for selling work start to wane. Keith Kreeger came to a point of reckoning in his career after a disastrous end to an art fair. He realized these events were too much work and stress for too little return, and made a conscious shift toward cultivating a customer base of people who take a considered, sustainable approach to sourcing their food, but may not have developed an appreciation for the importance of what they were using to serve it. Six years later, he supplies over 40 restaurants across the US, along with making tableware for special events like the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, where he lives. Working with chefs accounts for 40% of his studio production.
Tiffany Hilton, a longtime working potter located in western Massachusetts, was invited to work as a potter in residence for Edible Pioneer Valley magazine this year. She and Chef and Publisher Mary Reilly collaborated to combine seasonal ingredients and recipes with various pots, and working with photographer Dominic Perri, produced images used on four magazine covers, one for each season.
Adam Knoche, who is interested in conceptual abstraction of ceramics as a material, recording raw gesture and movements, and reflecting natural formations in his work, was contacted by Steinbeisser to create vessels and objects for serving food at one of their Experimental Gastronomy events in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The collaboration was a success, and Knoche is exploring more ideas for functional ware, in addition to planning for more dining events.
All of these artists have the experience of collaborating and doing research with chefs to come up with new ideas for presenting food. They also developed a diverse support system, which is important to any group of creative people, regardless of their discipline. Read on to learn more, then think about the possibilities you might explore.