Kiln to Table: Local Ceramics in the Dining Room
A dinner party with dishes by Mary Anne Davis
By Jamie Larson
Being able to locally source just about any conceivable ingredient is a gift from our region to the restaurant chefs who cook here and we spoiled diners who eat here. But a number of area restaurants are not only locally sourcing the food on the plates, but the plates themselves. This emerging culinary trend is not just a convenient way to further enhance the beauty of a dish. It is also a way to more holistically support our local, sustainable economies and showcase the stunning work of highly skilled regional ceramicists who deserve our attention.
Pasta and plate at Fish and Game
“You want to know who’s growing your food and who’s making your plate,” says Zak Pelaccio, chef-owner of the hyper-local restaurant Fish and Game in Hudson, New York. “(Fish and Game) has a very personal feel. It becomes this family thing.”
All the dinnerware at Fish and Game comes from artisans Pelaccio personally knows, all within a three-hour drive from the restaurant, including Tivoli Tile Works. A marriage of clean elegance and natural shape and edging, Caroline Wallner’s vessels become a piece of the restaurant experience. “The two inform each other,” Pelaccio says of dish and food.
Setting the table with Davis dishware.
Mary Anne Davis sells her beautiful wares from Los Angeles to Manhattan but she says there’s something fitting about seeing work made at her studio in Spencertown, New York used as intended by her neighbors. You’ve probably held one of Davis’ pieces without knowing it, like when you reached into the beautiful little bowls at The Flammerie in Kinderhook for some of their red beet died salt. She also just finished making her annual 50 mugs for the FilmColumbia Festival. As an ardent supporter of active local-centric economies, Davis sees restaurants supporting craftspeople as well as farms as the future of sustainability.
“It’s the next level, for the consumer to support local artisans as well as local farms,” says Davis, who will be participating at NY Now at the Javits Center this weekend (August 15-16). “I’ve tried to establish a way of making that’s responsible and friendly.”
Other local restaurants that are using more unconventional, regional ceramics as well as other kinds of locally made goods, from furnishings to fabrics, include Community Table in Washington, Connecticut, Crimson Sparrow in Hudson and The Corner at Hotel Tivoli in Tivoli, New York.
Plate or painting? Dinner at The Corner.
Throughout both restaurant and rooms, Hotel Tivoli uses an extensive and gorgeous trove of ceramics from the Tivoli Tile Works. While Wallner just recently moved her studio across the river to Bearsville, New York, the business still has strong ties to the area and the aesthetic remains as always, quintessentially rural Hudson Valley. Hotel Tivoli’s well-known artist-owners, Brice and Helen Marden, were collecting pieces from the Tile Works well before they opened the hotel, and infusing the eclectic hotel with the handmade ceramics adds much to the character of the restaurant and establishment at large.
“The Tivoli Hotel is a very personal experience in a lot of aspects,” says Hotel Assistant General Manager Janett Pabon. “(We) like things that are hand made. There’s a certain sensibility to the way (Wallner’s pieces) feel; no two dishes are the same. They don’t stack perfectly; you have to sort of cradle them. It adds to the uniqueness of every visit.”
One thing this new trend is not is an indictment of the white plate. There’s a time and a place in all art forms for a blank canvas, and local artisans make those, too. The increased use of natural forms in plating also doesn’t mean the kiln-to-table relationship doesn’t take place in more classic fine dining restaurants. The ornate gold and platinum rimmed plates at The Old Inn on The Green in New Marlborough, Massachusetts are made just down the road in Great Barrington, in the world-renowned studio of Michael Wainwright.
A mesmerizing dish by Michael Wainwright.
No matter how elaborate Wainwright’s art may be, it isn’t meant for a wall, it’s meant to be touched with knife and fork.
“I’m making functional wares. I want my pieces to be the frame for the artwork. I want to assist,” Wainwright says humbly. “It’s wonderful to have the Old Inn serve on my dishes; so many people come into my store because they ate there.”
Perhaps the best thing about local restaurants supporting local artisans (of all stripes) is that it just feels better and a bit prettier. It makes for a more uniquely regional experience. Plates made here feel like here. This approach, being adopted by more and more restaurants, gives a diner an even fuller sense that, just by eating out, they are a present part of a cultural and economic ecosystem that is sustainable and profoundly beautiful.