(S)Platters

During a trip to the TATE Britain this weekend over the course of some refreshment a jug of milk was spilled (shown above). This spill reminded me of some of the dishes (food and ceramic) on the menu of The Man Behind the Curtain.

Realising that I could use casting slip, I set about creating some organic spills on plaster bats. When leather hard, these spills could be manipulated into different shapes. Manipulated in a specific way, these spills could act as platters for the ready to go jelly plinths being produced for the Holburne Museum. Draped over preexisting molds, these (s)platters would comment on the past and present of food display.

This eventually lead me to develop another alternative method of creating plinths. By composing a range of plaster forms – cast from preexisting packaging – I could drop thin slabs of porcelain onto these compositions and create an organic, freestanding plinth (having removed the plaster packaging models when leather hard). This was inspired by the process of Luke Shalan.

For some of these forms I cut out circular bat like slabs, replicating signs found when making plates. The slab is then obstructed by the plaster packaging models, combining ready to go eating and entertainment dining.

Update 24 May 2016

Reflection on action:

during firing the individual (s)platters were placed on top/overlapping each other. This composition was extremely pleasing. It not only enhances the organic qualities of the spills (something I found very difficult to replicate)  alongside a curatorial element that makes the pieces feel more resolved.

The quantities of 0%, 5% and 10% black copper oxide resemble organic stones or pebbles, which further remind me of the stoneware plates and bowls of high-end restaurants NOMA and Casa Mia.

So, how to develop this approach? It was suggested that I look at the slip trailing work of Clive Bowen and his son Dylan Bowen. I was familiar with the work of Bowen senior, who’s making approach though gestural at times is fairly controlled; further outlined in this video.

The slip trailing of Dylan Bowen (found here) resembles some of the vigorous splatter marks found in the food served in The Man Behind the Curtain. This approach to making (s)platters would unite the conceptual ideas as well as having links in traditional ceramic making. The overlapping/combined colour effect above could be achieved by layering different coloured slips.

In an attempt to combine the (s)platter with the slip cast plinth forms I had already created I started to use varied plaster forms on which to pour the slip.

During my first attempt I poured the slip onto plaster bats used for plate making. I wanted to capture the spill in 3D. I suspected that the slip would shrink over this form, preventing it from releasing easily. My suspicions were  true and despite capturing some great spills, the slip refused to release from the plaster bats. I then returned to using flat bats and even a bowl form which enabled me to shape the spill into a curved vessel. This process is worth exploring further.

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The Man Behind the Curtain – Leeds

Making reference to the line in the Wizard of Oz, ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ this Leeds restaurant is using its ceramics as well as its food to make an impact with its customers. Using that line in particular, it appears that this restaurant is much more about what’s happening out front and not about the chef, behind the curtain. More about this restaurant can be found in this Guardian article.

Where ceramics is disappearing from convenience restaurants all over the country, fine-dining entertainment restaurants are embracing well designed/handcrafted ceramic tableware. Interestingly, each piece of ceramics is matched to a specific dish, therefore establishing an inextricable link between the food and the ceramics.

In The Man Behind The Curtain, the ceramics takes clear inspiration from the food. Wild, gestural splats are mirrored by plates and dishes (a loose label) which appear to have been frozen in time.

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Where I had previously noticed that ceramics remained in use when tablecloths were present, The Man Behind the Curtain – a clear example of high end entertainment dining  – has replaced the drama and elegance of the tablecloth with ceramics.

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So what objects if any connect our eating experiences? From this discovery it seems that the last remaining link, an object which still unites every restaurant, takeaway and cafe up and down the country is the napkin. (As seen above).

Getting over the slump

I’ve been a bit stuck the past couple of days, unable to see truth or purpose in any of the work I have been making. In order to move on from this I’d like to summarise what I know about eating culture and what I have been able to observe and determine from my research?

  1. Convenience food is dominating lunch times.
  2. Convenience restaurants are suited to ‘on the go’ lifestyle; quick service and public (bench) seating.
  3. Convenience food is fast.
  4. Convenience food is eaten off premises.
  5. Convenience food is eaten on premises in disposable packaging.
  6. Convenience packaging is single use.
  7. Convenience food is mass produced.
  8. Convenience packaging is mass produced.

 

  1. Ceramics remains prevalent at home and full-service dining.
  2. Ceramics is being replaced in all other places aside from those mentioned above.
  3. Ceramics is often used with a table cloth.
  4. Ceramics is often used with slow food.
  5. Ceramics is often made for Michelin restaurants.

 

  1. The knife is disappearing from English eating habits.
  2. Paraphernalia is used to match the culture (chopsticks, spoon, hands, bread) when dining out.

 

  1. I love eating out.
  2. I love cooking.
  3. I use paraphernalia to match the cultural roots of the food (chopsticks etc) even at home.
  4. I set out a full place setting but often the knife goes unused.
  5. I cook dishes from different cultures and chefs.
  6. I’m currently interested in Yotam Ottolenghi – his food is great and his cultural capital is vast. (Gay Jew from Jerusalem, string of London restaurants, recipe books, writes for the Guardian)
  7. Cooking food from chefs I perceive to have integrity adds to my cultural capital.
  8. I tell people about recipes they should attempt.
  9. I cook nothing from Anthony Worrall-Thompson or Gary Rhodes.
  10. I have a guilty pleasure for McDonalds and KFC but cant face eating it publicly.
  11. I buy my food from Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and local independent retailers.
  12. I feel comfortable telling people I buy from the aforementioned retailers. 
  13. I’d love to be vegetarian.
  14. I can’t digest vast quantities of dairy without embarrassing myself.

 

I dont eat:

  1. Dairy from cows – cheese, milk, ice cream, butter.
  2. Cucumber.
  3. Black pudding.
  4. Olives.
  5. Cold cured meats like salami.
  6. Pork.

Potential ideas from this reflection on action

  • Ceramic food in disposable packaging – slip coating disposable packaging didn’t work as mentioned in the previous post. If the packaging cant be ceramic, maybe the food can. 
  • Portraits of people from what they don’t eat; highlighting the middle class obsession with dietary disorders and the  moral high ground of food origins. (Veganism, buying local, responsible products)
  • Highlighting the connection between the remaining constant link of ceramics and tablecloths. 

Cosmo – the refined way to gorge

Last week I was invited to meet some friends who were visiting from out of town. It was suggested that we eat at Cosmo, a restaurant I’d not really heard of. I was the first to arrive and was asked to wait in the lobby. At this request I’d thought we had clearly set our dining goals very high. The restaurant was well lit, richly decorated and had two maître d’s.

It wasn’t until being shown to our table did I notice a) the vastness of the place, b) a gargantuan array of self service Bain Marie’s, c) how full the place was and d) the mix bag of people electing to eat there. It appeared that many people had dressed up for the ocassion, most as family get together; there was even a surprise 40th birthday party.

  

At this point a wave of joyful greed washed over me. I usually avoid places like this as the emphasis is placed on how much you can eat and very little on creating a joyful ambiance. But on this occasion I’d paid my £13.50 and I was going to eat my quota and more.

Armed with my plate I set off. The agenda (and you need an agenda) was to eat my way through the different geographical regions on offer: India, China, Malaysia, Italy and the U.K. (roast). I avoided the U.K. and Italy as these are staple regulars of mine. Similarly I avoided dishes that I’d previously experienced out or judged too safe; your korma and sweet and sour chicken etc.


It was genuinely an exciting experience and I was ecstatic to try foods I wouldn’t have usually risked if ordering solely as a main. Cosmo even had a tasting area, encouraging its diners to attempt different dishes.

As I went round with my plate eagerly eying up the 150 dishes it did seem that lots of people were opting for something fried with chips. However people were requesting fish portions at the ‘cooked to order’ bar or alternating between the obvious and the adventurous. It’s worth mentioning that there was only one Bain Marie holding chips, ten for Indian options and at least twenty for Chinese dishes.

I worked my way through a shameful (impressive) three plates. I felt people averaged two, heeding the Cosmo slogan along the lines of love food hate waste.

Dessert was a different story. The youngsters particularly loved the sweet counter, bathing their choices in two types of chocolate.


Small portions of dessert were made up, a great way of preventing customers from accidental overindulgence. Surprisingly it was the fruit bar that had depleted its stock by the time I got there. By the time I’d returned to my table friends had either finished dessert or were still finishing their mains.

The social dining experience was very disjointed because of this. I believe our table of 7 sat down together for a total of 30 minutes throughout the 2hour duration of our stay; someone was always off on the hunt for more dishes.

So what does this experience say about our food culture?

1) value for money – ridiculously cheap especially if you eat 3 plates.

2) a diverse range people want value for money. Even those who look like they could  afford a lot more.

3) people can (and do) choose healthy options even when presented with more exciting unhealthy choices.

4) the restaurant encourages customers to try new foods.

5) the restaurant encourages moderation.

6) modest eaters are susseptable to overindulgence.

7) diners will try to eat the equivalent of the bill.

8) value is placed on food and not experience (money versus quality).

I believe Cosmo did a great job at catering for its customers. I felt it pushed people to experience foreign cuisine and moderated unhealthy choices.

Unless you or your group are able to exercise control on when and how long to fill your plates for this style of dining clearly depletes the group experience. The restaurant was busy and full of excited chatter, not ideal credentials for a long awaited catch up. It is this element that worries me…

are we placing food quantity over a quality group experience?