Ceramics Monthly: How did the studio’s annual collaborative Masterchefs program begin?
Widukind Stockmans: In 2009, the studio had been working with several chefs in Europe, providing tableware for their restaurants, when we started discussing the idea to invite them to our studio. This conversation, combined with the fact that we were moving to a new location, was a good opportunity to start new events. The program now invites a different chef to the studio each year to create a meal for 50 guests that’s plated on the studio’s tableware. Chef Roger van Damme was the invited chef for 2016, and the pop-up event took place in early October.
CM: How do you determine which chef to work with each year?
WS: The studio currently provides tableware to 95 restaurants in Europe. For the Masterchef program, we invite one of the chefs who has worked with us for several years and uses the studio’s porcelain tableware in his or her restaurant. This familiarity and close working relationship are really important to the success of the event.
CM: What is the timeline for preparing the Masterchef program?
WS: We invite each chef to participate in the event at the beginning of the year, and then they come in to our studio to discuss their specific ideas and needs. In the past, they would tell me the menu they had planned for the event, and now the process starts with choosing a plate design, then the chef make a new dish inspired by the plate. Of course that is wonderful for us, but also for the chef. Beyond the design, in our meetings, we cover details like the sizes of plates that the chef needs. In the end, we make several new plates each year for this occasion.
CM: What is involved in the collaboration between artists at the studio and the chef?
WS: The tableware is handmade in small series in our studio in Genk, Belgium. The designs are from Piet Stockmans and Frank Claesen, who both work under the brand Studio Pieter Stockmans. When I visit with the chefs, I hear what they need and then we develop the plate for them.
Stockmans and Claesen start designing new forms by working directly with clay. They make lots of samples, and refine the forms through trial and error. Once the form is finalized, they make a technical drawing and then they use the finished prototypes to make a plaster mold to be put into production.
CM: How are the tableware pieces for each event chosen?
WS: If the chef has suggestions, or shares with us that he or she really wants to work with a certain plate, we certainly add it, but we also add new models that we have developed.
CM: Is there a critique process to refine the menu or presentation?
WS: The menu is completely from the chef; the studio does not get involved. The chefs have such a good eye on the food-plate combination that we don’t change it. The chefs also brings their own wine choices for pairing with each dish.
CM: Have the studio staff and/or chefs discovered any creative insights from the events?
WS: It is very much a combination of both. The chef answers questions from the guests and has a chance for more personal contact with everyone due to the size of the event. People who attend the dinner have the opportunity to learn more about what is involved in becoming a chef, creating a menu, and the process involved for restaurants being awarded different ratings, like Michelin stars, etc. And, through the event, our staff has the opportunity to observe how the pieces are used by a restaurant staff, and, in addition to practical concerns, they learn more about the creative process as they see the chef working in the kitchen.
CM: Has the series of events influenced any tableware designs or other art projects at the studio?
WS: Every time we speak to a chef about their ideas, we understand more and more about what they are looking for and need in tableware. The most important thing is to listen to the chef, to ask questions, and try to understand what they do so that it can inform future designs.
the author Widukind Stockmans is responsible for running day-to-day operations at Studio Pieter Stockmans. To learn more about the studio’s different tableware collections and to see more of their projects, including images from previous Masterchefs events, visit www.pietstockmans.com/en.
Sidebar: Chef Roger van Damme (2016 Masterchef)
Ceramics Monthly: How long have you worked with Studio Pieter Stockmans?
Roger van Damme: We have worked together for almost ten years now on tableware for my restaurant, Het Gebaar. We use the studio’s dinnerware regularly in the restaurant because of the beautiful design and the vastness of each piece. They’re also very lightweight.
CM: What is the inspiration for the sculptural presentations of the dishes that you create? How long does it take to develop them, from choosing ingredients to finishing the composition?
RvD: It depends, but mostly it’s a long process. It can take sometimes six or seven months to create a new dish. Usually I get inspiration from something I suddenly see in my environment. I’m very busy, so it takes more time to create desserts. The advantage is that you aim high when you get the time to start creating. I start by drawing the idea I have for a plated dish, including the composition of the food. I revise from there, which allows it to improve over time.
CM: What steps were involved in the collaboration between you and the studio on designing the plates for the event?
RvD: Usually I let the artist be creative with the design. I adapt the composition of the food to the style of the plate and requirements of the menu, but everything gives me new ideas.
CM: What interests you most about working with artists and designers to craft a specific dining experience for guests?
RvD: That it never can be good and beautiful enough. Artists are like chefs, in that they are also very driven. It’s a fascinating experience to collaborate on the pursuit of perfection with them.
the author Roger van Damme is the executive chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Het Gebaar in Antwerp, Belgium. Learn more at www.rogervandamme.com.
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