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By Sara Lieberman
/7 April 2017
At his eponymous restaurant inside Hotel Thoumieux near the Eiffel Tower, chef Sylvestre Wahid has earned two Michelin stars for his artful food — served on equally imaginative dishes. “The plate is like a canvas on which the dish and its colours are realised,” he says. The 300 handmade pieces in his collection were designed in collaboration with French potter Isabelle Poupinel. “I love the handcrafted aspect of her creations; the dimensions, the natural, mineral aspects to them,” Wahid says. “This parallelism between the content and the containers is really an interesting way to create harmony.” Poupinel, who has created ceramics by hand, on a wheel, for nine years, agrees — but claims that collaborating with chefs isn’t always so easy. “At first, he wanted the raw plates without enamel. I said, ‘no way!’ With sauce, or whatever, they’d get ruined. Sometimes, you have to control what chefs want in order to protect the work. They can be crazy!” she says with a laugh.
For his first restaurant, Elmer, chef Simon Horwitz wanted to celebrate his native French cuisine, but also pay homage to all he’d discovered during his travels — particularly his influential internship at Central in Lima, Peru, where chef Virgilio Martinez’s contemporary menu of native Peruvian ingredients named his establishment one of the world’s 50 best restaurants. Fittingly, the dishes are commissioned from a maker in Peru (and the chairs are from Italy, the wood tables from Burgundy and the lights from Germany). “I like the idea of exclusivity and promoting her work,” Horwitz says about the ceramist Corinna Silva-Rodriguez Bonazzi. Her Cotto Designs dishes are as popular as the foods they carry (like baby pigeon with grass-green asparagus or sea urchin with potatoes and sorrel). Guests often inquire about purchasing their own sets — and soon, they will be able to. For Silva-Rodriguez Bonazzi’s part, it took about five months to develop and design Horwitz’s order and then about 10 weeks to produce about 800 pieces, which vary in size and colour. The palette resembles a morning sky: pale yellows, baby blues and brighter hues splattered on white. Silva-Rodriguez Bonazzi’s Lima studio gets so humid she often has to wait up to 10 days before firing anything. “The process is slow, but I am still inspired.”
To complement and showcase his Asian-inflected French cuisine at Dersou, located on a narrow side street in the 12th Arrondissement, the Japanese chef Taku Sekine collaborates with different artists to create custom dishware. Many of these artists are from his native Japan, including Akio Nukaga and Akihito Nikaido, whose styles skew earthier and more raw than the work of, say, Kazumi Yoshimura, who is “all about colour, colour, colour — he is obsessed!” Sekine says. (Yoshimura works alone in his Mashiko studio, so the chef will wait a minimum of a year to receive an order of his extremely wide-rimmed bowls.) “I just want ceramics to inspire food and people,” says Sekine, whose only non-Japanese collaborator is the French ceramist Judith Lasry. He met Lasry in her early days as a regular at Dersou: While sitting at the bar waiting for her order, Sekine says she’d touch the plates in awe. Once he heard that Lasry worked with clay from Burgundy, he commissioned her to do a piece, and now 10 percent of Dersou’s cuisine is served on Lasry’s natural-looking stoneware. “With Taku, we work in a very artistic way. He informs me about his need, maybe something for juice or bouillon, and I show him what I do,” she says. “I love this kind of collaboration because he takes what he likes without the desire to change my style.”
“I was living in Paris at the time and looking for a pot for my plant,” says the Dutch potter Herman Verhagen of J.C. Herman Ceramics in Amsterdam, about how he got his start. “I couldn’t find what I was looking for so I decided to learn how to make one myself.” After a year of studying ceramics at Paris’s Terre et Fou Art School, he moved back to his native Netherlands to open up an atelier. Previously, he worked as a video artist. “At one point, it was all too virtual,” he says. “I wasn’t in touch with materials and I wanted to work with my hands.” Now, seven years later, the 43-year-old supplies nearly 20 restaurants in the Netherlands, Ireland and France with unique, wheel-thrown clay designs. In Paris, his newest client is Bonhomie, where the owners Dotan Shalev and Timothée Prangé focus on the plates — especially since they are passed around at their new Mediterranean-infused restaurant, where dishes are designed to share. Sun-coloured quince, cream and honey rest beautifully in a sea-foam green glazed bowl, and chopped purple beats with pine nuts are placed in a small earthenware plate glazed in “Bonhomie blue” — a colour Herman created solely for the space. “We defined a general colour palette, but he had the freedom to produce within that frame like this very soulful, deep blue,” Shalev says. “He matched the vibe we envisioned.”
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