Dishing it up

“It’s not just what’s on the plate, it’s the plate itself,” says Sadik Ardolli, Sales and Marketing Manager for national hospitality supplier Chef’s Hat. “Whether you are the Ritz-Carlton or a corner café, you are selling an experience,” he says. “And the plate you put down in front of the customer says as much about your brand as the chandelier hanging from the ceiling to the way your menu is designed.”

In the past decade the colour palette for restaurant tableware has become more muted. Ten years ago, there was a lot more colour in the ceramic on which food was served, now those colours have moved from earthy pastel to more neutral earthy tones. “I have just sat down with a new restaurant that wants a real ‘nonna’ feel so I am now sourcing a range of brown-hued crockery for that client. Sadik says that restaurants, bistros and even pizzerias want to make their own mark on the table and are turning to branded crockery. “It is not a long process,” he says. “The client will come to us with some finished artwork and we will have some samples made for their approval to make sure it works on the plate and with food,” he says. “Once the client approves, we then have the artwork glazed onto each piece. The process can take under four weeks.”

When it comes to bespoke ceramics, no one knows pottery like third-generation potter Sam Gordon. Based in Gembrook in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, he handmakes tableware for restaurants from Sydney to Manhattan. Sam recently put his pottery wheel on a trailer to work with a restaurateur in Sydney. “It starts with a conversation,” says the affable potter. “They tell me how deep the plate needs to be and what will be served in it. I can’t sketch, so I start to throw a plate using clay on the wheel, to give them an idea of the shape and size,” he says. He might add a dint in the lip of the plate for a spoon or a place for a jug to go. He is also aware that the plate needs to meet the demands of different parts of the restaurant. It needs to hold the food for the chef. It needs to add visual value for the customer. It needs to withstand the rigours of the washing up sink and it needs to be stackable. “A good plate needs to work with the food, the atmosphere of the dining room, it needs to make great food look just that little bit better.”

“While some customers are going for the Japanese-style glazes there is a real growing demand for the white porcelain bistro plate,” says Sadik. “There is a lot of value to be had with the brands from Turkey, while the lustre is coming off the English made plates. The costs are rising.” Sadik says whatever tableware a business invests in, you get what you pay for. “You could be handing over as little as $5 a unit,” he says, “but you’re taking a risk on its longevity, while a $40 plate could last a decade. The problem with that is,” he says with a little laugh, “for some that is too long as they like to change over their plates when they change chefs or do a big menu change.”

Tableware is a big investment for any business and it needs to be cared for. “A lot of people are opting for stoneware because of its beautiful texture,” says ceramicist Shelley Panton. She has been making fine ceramics for chefs and domestic kitchens for 15 years. Shelley says to avoid earthenware as it is not durable enough for a commercial dining room. “Stoneware is stronger but look for plates made with at least 10% porcelain,” she says. “They need to be oven, microwave and dishwasher safe and that little bit of porcelain makes it that bit stronger.” She says the biggest enemy of tableware is thermal shock. “You break your wine glasses in the sink, not the dishwasher and not when you’re clinking them to say ‘cheers’. Right?” she asks. “So don’t put your plates through rapid temperature changes,” she says. That’s when they are most likely to break. “Or, when there’s a klutz who drops them. That cannot be helped.”

As seen in Winter 2023

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