The Importance Of The Right Plateware
“I detest square plates,” declares Jason Tan, chef patron and co-owner of one-Michelin star Corner House, when I catch him in between lunch and dinner service. “Apart from that, I’m very open to patterns, shapes and colours that fit my gastro-botanica cuisine.”
Tan declares that he is addicted to tableware, a “personal hobby” that sees him buying pieces in countries he visits. “I can never have enough plates, but it’s too much for my team who has to find storage for them,” he admits. He has just returned from Thailand the day before, bearing new pearlware—bowls and spoons. A few months back, it was hawker bowls from China. His staff are meticulous about tableware so there is hardly any breakage—which means they are fast running out of space for Tan’s hobby.
Diners at Corner House will be familiar with his JT-emblazoned signature plate, a bold canvas for his beloved dish of carabinero prawns with variations of tomato. “I already had this dish in mind when I was looking for the plate,” Tan elaborates. “I knew about Luesma & Vega when I was working in Barcelona so I went to meet the founders to make the plate a reality to match this dish.” The Spanish design and production studio is a favourite of elBulli, Mugaritz and Gaggan, among others, and they customised the unique glass pieces Tan was seeking. The other signature plate is the leaf dish that holds his Botanica “garden” of over 40 vegetables. Aside from these two, he regularly switches around his plateware to change up the presentation of his dishes. He is already envisioning his next plate collaboration, and hoping to find a local or regional artisan. “Please recommend if you know anyone!”
It is more common for chefs to remain mum when it comes to naming their artisan source. Chef Kenjiro Hashida of Hashida Sushi Singapore lets on that he is currently working with “a self-taught Singaporean friend who prefers to remain low profile” for a range of natural ceramic pieces made from local clay blended with grog and crackle glaze for his exquisite omakase cuisine. “As everyone is using tableware made in Japan, I thought why not use Japanese-inspired tableware made by a local artist?” he grins cheekily. Hashida himself got hands-on making pottery back in Japan in 2012 before he moved to Singapore in 2013, and loved the experience.
We snuck a peek at his preliminary six sample pieces at press time, and discovered a natural moody palette that incorporates some of his favourite colours: dark green, deep underwater blues and a splash of rust red. It is a masculine complement to the soothing bamboo and blonde wood Zen-ness of his restaurant, with multiple textures, widths and striated patterns. The intention, says Hashida, is simply “to create art pieces on each tableware, to bring customers a touch of the extraordinary through the culinary creations”.
Andrew Walsh, who is behind the chef-centric restaurant Cure, also makes it a point to source special tableware not used by anyone else. “I get them handcrafted in Bali by a potter. I go through new ideas with them, and go back every year to get new pieces,” he explains. His second outlet, Butcher Boy, also uses the same potter’s ceramics but in variations such as darker colours, which preserves the visual language.
A lot of thought and different considerations go into the plateware, such as the colours—he veers towards natural, sandy tones—and how it complements the lighting in the restaurant. “The plate is always the canvas on which to paint the food, but it’s also art in itself. White round plates are just so old school, and there’s been a shift to a more natural looking plate,” Walsh reflects. One of his favourite platings is a dessert of rose and basil chocolate, which looks like the landscape of Bali when you peer down from a plane. Having gotten hands-on at the potter’s studio, he appreciates the craftsmanship and care that goes into a quality plate. “It’s the very foundation of a great dish.”