A collection of artist-made dinner plates and related insights about food an exhibition at Penland Gallery, Penland, North Carolina
Artists were asked to respond to a questionnaire. Here is my response.
Do you enjoy cooking? Yes. Mostly because I have a fast metabolism and I know what I like so I might as well cook it rather than get cranky when it's too late or doesn't satisfy.
Are you a good cook? Or are you barely able to boil water? I am an intuitive cook. I have basic working recipes that I vary depending on the season and what's in the garden or the fridge. One of the most interesting things I did in terms of cooking was to be a recipe tester for Elizabeth Andoh for two of her Japanese cookbooks.She has a new E book called kibo. I would go to the Asian grocery store with a list, not knowing whether the item was frozen, dried, fresh or canned. I tried to follow her directions to the letter, which is not my usual habit, and thus I learned a lot. These new recipes also forced me out of habitual uses of plates when serving the meals.
What is your favorite food for dinner? Basically, I like a balanced meal with rice, vegetable and protein.
Besides your own dinnerware, whose plates do you enjoy using? I have various historical pieces that get pulled out when we are having a celebratory dinner; some English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Often when a friend comes to visit with a dog they ask what bowl can they choose for water. I tell them, "pick any bowl" and I am floored by the number of times different friends have picked the Sung dynasty celadon bowl off the open shelves--so I have to add, "well actually, any bowl but that one." I love the idea that some person's hands--that are essentially the same as mine--made these bowls. Could they have imagined that a bowl made in China has ended up in this modern world of Virginia, yet still speak a poetic language of use?
Do you think about a specific food when you are designing a new piece for tableware? I have been making plates and bowls for Omen Restaurant in New York City for 29 years. We sometimes sit down with the chef when he is designing the next season's menu to discuss how the plate will contrast or echo the food. Will the plate need to accommodate sauce or can it be flatter? If I'm missing something specific or just different in my kitchen I'll go make it as well.
Does food influence the color choices in your work? Food color influences which plates I choose to use for a given meal. My palette is also honed so it isn't in garish competition with food.
Do plates have to be round? They don't even have to be whole. The most used plates in our house for individual servings are square. Currently, my favorite serving dishes are woodfired leaf-shaped plates.
If you could only eat one food (or type of food) for the rest of your life, what would it be? The key for me is variety and contrast, so I can't even begin to answer such a question.
Do you have a "Proust food?" A dish or meal so rich in personal associations that just to taste it brings a specific place and time from your past vividly alive in your mind? My childhood lunch was Campbell's tomato soup and a sandwich. Both my parents worked at home and on most days we sat down to lunch together. My father said he liked Campbell's tomato soup because you can count on it being the identical shade of red, the same tomato flavor, the same consistency and salt content. Sometimes I think that avoiding that regularity is part of what leads me to embrace making homemade soups. They are always slightly different. I also use the soup ideal as my guideline for mixing clay. Each time I mix clay it is going to be slightly different because I gather a different bucket of clay at the mine or add slightly more or less of heavier iron bearing clays. In response, my forms then vary as well.
What artists, dead or alive, would you enjoy sharing a meal with? I often look to Rosanjin for inspiration because he ran a restaurant and looked so carefully at historical pots. I would love to share a meal with Picasso for his immediate vibrancy and inspiration from the food to plate. But if we're dreaming, why not Morandi and Cezanne?
Do you have a favorite cookbook (or just a favorite cook...)? Lately my favorite is Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking. I like her web site www.101cookbooks.com and how she varies flavors and spices. It gets me out of habitual approaches to the same old vegetables.