Ryan Fletcher is developing a niche, creating custom tableware for chefs and aficionados. He is a Jacksonville native that is taking his craft all over the world.
Arash: I think I can suppose that many people do not look at their tableware as something that “fulfills its purpose.” It seems you are saying that that lack of awareness of what tableware can be holds true for chefs, as well. Is that your experience?
Ryan: It’s just that this is such a new thing – creating custom dinnerware – that there’s not even a reference for it. There is one restaurant I know of in Chicago called Alinea that had a designer make all their tableware and serving apparatus (check out the “rocking bacon hanger”). It’s one of those super high-end, ultra-modern, molecular gastronomy joints. Alinea was one of the main restaurants I researched for my first food project along with the former El Buli in Spain.
I believe there are chefs out there that are saying to themselves right now, “I wish there were someone who could design a custom plate for this thing I make.” It’s just not that apparent that this is even an option yet.
Arash: Tell me about some of the “ah-ha” moments chefs have had as you have worked with them to create custom tableware?
Ryan: I can’t really speak for the chefs. :)
Arash: Whatever… ;)
Arash: What are some of the “ah-ha” moments you have had while working with chefs. Are there moments, for instance that as a chef describes, say, hollandaise sauce, that you conclude, “oh, duh, the lip of the plate needs to slope an additional ten degrees downwards!”
Ryan: Those types of moments happen every time a new chef finishes plating a course on my ware. Chefs complete my project. Pieces are totally transformed every time a new chef uses them. My first “ah-ha” moment happened when I realized that good chefs have total control over the food they make. They don’t require dishes with large rims or high walls to contain their sauces. They can makes sauces that are perfectly stable and stay put on any surface. This gave me entirely more freedom with my designs.
Arash: I’d love an example of how you and a chef worked out a strategy for a specific course?
Ryan: I don’t usually get involved with the food. I collaborate with chefs on the design of the plate and hopefully it’s diverse enough to function with lots of different types of food. I hope the dinnerware inspires the chef to create new types of food and flavor combinations they wouldn’t have previously made.
One of my first events was with a chef from Spain that specialized in Spanish Tapas. We created a proposal together to “cater” a gallery exhibition called “The Dining Room Project.” Its premise was artwork relating to the idea of food, community, or the dinner table. Our proposal was to provide free hors d’oeuvres for the night of the opening.
The chef created three beautiful and delicious appetizer courses: Hojaldre de Lingua: Beef Tongue in a puff pastry with ratatouille, Ensalada tibia de Estomago a picadillo of celery carrot and onion with beef stomach, and Corizon al la Catalonya beef heart seared and simmered in a Mediterranean tomato sauce. Everything was served on my dinnerware, and was completely gone within the second hour of the opening. And yes, they knew what they were eating. The menu was clearly posted. I felt like we proved something that night about the importance of presentation in food service.