A love of great plates

Posted on November 16, 2005 by Aun

My darling wife S and I are both devoted design fans. It’s one of the things that we bonded over very early on in our relationship. The fantastic thing is that we also have amazingly similar tastes; we often find ourselves drooling over the same items in our favorite stores, be they chairs or cake stands. Over the half decade we’ve been together, (and once S successfully got rid of my “bachelor stuff”) we’ve amassed a wonderful array of beautiful things to serve food on and with. And, from what I can tell, we’re still adding to our collection.

So, I was very excited and flattered when contacted recently by Design Public, a very cool online design store that also maintains its own blog, and asked to take part in “Delicious Design”, a week long blogging event it’s hosting during which invited floggers are asked to write on the theme, “the aesthetics of food.” This is a great topic.

I consider myself a highly visual person and great food to me has always been more than just its taste. As any restaurateur or chef will tell you, it’s also about the presentation. This, in turn, can be broken down into two components. The first is the artistry that the chef demonstrates when plating a dish. You know, the swirling lines of sauce, the ingredients that are gingerly stacked in gravity-defying towers, things like that. Some chefs prefer to play with colors. Some chefs like height. Others demonstrate artful restraint, placing small portions of food on large, pristine plates. Others lean towards overabundance, overwhelming the diner with the amount and complexity of their ingredients.

The second component is the plate itself. It’s both the frame and the canvas for the art that the chefs create. A great plate, a beautifully designed plate, can elevate a dish. It can take a good dish and make it great. And it can transform a great one into a culinary masterpiece. But don’t get me wrong. Beautiful design doesn’t mean over-designed. Let’s not forget that the role of a plate is to present and enhance the pleasure of great food. The plate shouldn’t overwhelm the food. It shouldn’t compete for attention. Like the best designed dresses, which enhance the beauty and sex appeal of the women who wear them, great plates make food more appealing. Great plates should, though, always be well made.

As mentioned earlier, S and I have, what I consider to be, a great collection of plates, glasses, and other things which make our food look great and (to me) taste better. Some of these items are entirely frivolous, like our red-metal tiered cake stand. On the other hand, we consider our handmade Bison stoneware cake stands–of which we have three (in different sizes, 2 in white, 1 in black)–entirely necessary. We treasure our set of Thierry Cheyrou-designed Raynaud wide-rimmed porcelain plates. We will always be eternally grateful to family and friends who, through our wedding registry, helped us acquire a stunning selection of Tiffany’s dinnerware, silverware and wine glasses. I’m particularly drawn to square and rectangular plates and S has allowed me to purchase several sets over the years. At the same time, I’ve indulged her obsession with searching antique stores and flea markets for Sheffield steel, bone-handled cutlery. We have specific flatware for specific dishes. We have certain plates we only use with certain friends. We even have some items we rarely use, preferring to admire them unadorned. And we love them all.

One of my favorites is a set of 10 Bernardaud wide-rimmed porcelain plates with the tiniest of serving spaces. We first saw them at Les Amis, one of Singapore’s fanciest French restaurants. We loved them on sight. When we later saw them on display at one of our local restaurant supply stores, we immediately asked if we could purchase a set. Unfortunately, we were told that only bulk orders for restaurants or hotels would be entertained. Then, a few months later, when we were back in the shop, a staffer that recognized us told us that they had just gotten a large order for them and could help us piggy-back 10 extras if we were still interested. Of course, we screamed, “yes!” and all but hugged her. The picture above (which is actually also inset in the collage at the top) is of the plate, being used to present an abalone noodle dish.

The pieces that we’re currently most excited about are a set we bought in Shanghai at an amazing pottery store called Spin. These handmade porcelain plates are beautiful. They’re simple, white with a shallow bowl shape. Around the rim of each plate is a streak of red underglaze–a nod to Ch’ing dynasty pottery. Each plate is also unique, with a slightly different streak. Unfortunately, the plates are being shipped to us and won’t arrive for another 4-8 weeks.

The only downside of being a foodie, design addict and slight compulsive shopper is that every time I enter a cool lifestyle store or great design shop, I have to be careful. There are just so many beautiful, tempting items which S and I would love to own and use. Of course, being unable to actually afford them all means that we better appreciate the ones we do eventually end up splurging on. The reward, though, is not in the act of buying them, but in using them–in finding just the right recipe with which to pair each new plate. And serving the dish, perfectly plated, to friends and loved ones.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Sonya November 17, 2005 at 1:04 am

    Hi, after reading your post i sort of understand your “obsession” with plates for my granddad too had such. But his was more prone to tea sets and silverwares.

    My granddad is an western chef whom has his certification from London and training at many european ships in the 1940 – 1960s. Oftenly, he would travel and purchases delicate tea sets and solid heavy silverwares from each trip. I remembered in our storage room having a porcelain tea set from Japan. After enjoying the tea till the last drop, with the aid of light, you can see a Japanese woman at the bottom of the tea cups. Such intricate design at those days.

    Anyway, really enjox ur blog .. Cya

  2. tara November 17, 2005 at 3:49 am

    Oh my! Your collection is absolutely gorgeous, and envy-inducing. I just mentioned to my S last night that we need more shelves downstairs to house my ever-expanding plate collection. I might need to double that request … those wide rimmed plates are just stunning, and how lucky you were in getting them! As always, your styling shows a true talent for aesthetic balance.

  3. 2-minute Noodle Cook November 17, 2005 at 7:26 am

    I really like your wide rim plate with the small serving well. Is that the same one as for the wedding anniversary post with the prawn and sphaghetti? Here in Perth, I like the hotel grade “Australian Fine China” which doesn’t chip easily. It is a white plate without the intricate embellishments that adds elegance – at least that works for me, with the help of ideas from Donna Hay. You are 110% percent right about food tasting better when well presented – I did that with leftovers and received compliments! The leftovers refer to potato chips initially served in paper wrappers.

  4. augustusgloop November 17, 2005 at 8:06 am

    I have often admired your fantastic plate collection. I agree. A good plate is priceless.

  5. J November 17, 2005 at 8:46 am

    hi, cool post offering a teasing peek of your judiciously edited (and ever-expanding) collection. now, what i’m curious to know is, which friends get what plates ;D

  6. Linsy November 17, 2005 at 9:43 am

    Nice plates! How did you manage to store them?

    I have also been looking for Spin in SH but can’t seem to find in on Julu Lu. Do you have the exact address to share with me? Thanks!

  7. Frederico November 17, 2005 at 10:10 am

    An enlightening post. Being a relative noob at these culinary details, i’m starting to look upon every visit to your flog as a learning experience. :P
    Question though, how big is the size of the serving of that noodle dish ? Coz from my view, either the plate looks enormous, or the serving is minute.

  8. S November 17, 2005 at 10:14 am

    Hi Linsy
    Spin is at 1F Bldg 3, 758 Julu Road. Ph: +86 21 6279 2545. The building is actually tucked much farther off the street, behind a long driveway/parking lot. It’s only a short walk away from Shintori restaurant.

    And if you happen to stop by over the next couple of days, ask for Anita Xu the sales director and please tell her that her customer in Singapore is still waiting for her parcel label number :)

  9. Cind November 17, 2005 at 10:41 am

    Am saying it again….You truly have the works & talent to open up a restaurant!

  10. Chubby Hubby November 17, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    Sonya: Do you still have all those tea sets and silverwares? I am sure they are stunning. Su-Lyn has been drooling over the Victoria & Albert Museum-inspired line from Royal Selangor most recently. She has a thing for romantic retro pieces.

    Tara: Thanks. We’re also running out of space. We have things hidden in bookshelves and I can hardly find things these days.

    2-minute: Great eye. It is the same plate! Thanks also for the recommendation with the Aussie Fine China. Will definitely check it out.

    Augustus: Thanks!

    J: Well, the ones who appreciate them of course. ;-)

    Frederico: It’s a very small well with a very, very wide rim. I don’t think the well is more than 2 – 2.5 inches across.

    Cind: Nah, too much hard work. I really admire restaurateurs and professional chefs because of the hours they put in and the amount of crap they have to take from surly customers. I doubt I could do that.

  11. melissa November 17, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    That is a very dramatic looking plate. I like it. Could be used for desserts too, eh?

  12. lol November 17, 2005 at 5:01 pm

    I remember they served the venus clam using that plate. And I tot that was its only possible use, considering its smallness…haha…

  13. Lil November 17, 2005 at 6:09 pm

    if you ever need to purge your current collection to make room for new ones, contact me! *grin*

    thank you for sharing such beautiful images with us… :)

  14. slurp! November 17, 2005 at 10:37 pm

    Congratulations for being selected by Design Public!

    I’m fond beautifully design kitchenware. (in fact all beautifully designed objects, who doesn’t?) at the sametime, I’m worrying of buying something that end up like a white elephant.

    hence i’m always wondering how can one make sensible & wise purchasing decision. was hopeful if you or S can share tips on making the most out of these beautiful & (usually) expensive purchases.

    thanks! :)
    p.s: guess i have to worry about storage next ha!

  15. cin November 18, 2005 at 9:51 am

    The plates are certainly beutiful but I think it’s the skill you have in selecting the right one and presenting your food that makes your photos so great, CH!

  16. Monkey Gland November 19, 2005 at 1:43 am

    I’m very fussy about this kind of stuff at home, it has to be white and it has to be very very simple. I serve most food I make in very plain shallow dishes that I love and have never been able to replace, the time will soon arrive when I have broken too many to able to use them and I’ll be mortified. White is very important, I am slightly phobic of eating food off coloured plates, it gives me the heebeegeebees!

  17. Alexandra November 20, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    hi, great post… as always, your photos are fantastic… :) where do you usually take your photos when at home? what kind of lighting set up do you use?

    i’m particularly impressed by your photos in restaurants, they’re always so well lit which is something I have a problem with in most situations. Do you intentionally choose to dine at lunch for the light?

    and also, where do you find gorgeous plates in singapore?

    sorry to have inundated you with all the questions…

  18. Chubby Hubby November 20, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    melissa: It would have to be small desserts. We usually use it for mouthful-sized portions of pastas.

    lol: Well, it is small. But beautiful.

    lil: Hiya, I doubt S will be looking to get rid of any of plates anytime soon. But I’ll keep ya in mind. ;-)

    slurp: I think it comes down to what really works for you and if you think you’re really going to use it. We don’t have a lot of repeats also. You also have to decide if you’re ready to invest in beautiful, expensove but often easy-to-break plates. We have, but we still have many, many more affordable and easy-to-replace pieces.

    cin: Thanks!

    MG: Most of our plates are white also. I hate gaudy patterns on plates. The wildest we go is cream colored plates (one set of rough, handmade Japanese square plates) and black plates (again, one set). We do like the silver-edged plates, but with white of course.

    alexandra: Hi, I shoot in both day with natural light and at night in artificial light. Trick is befriending your white balance setting feature on your camera. :-) We shop everywhere, from Sia Huat to Takashimaya. We’re always on the lookout for nice stuff.

  19. S November 20, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    Hiya Slurp,

    You can’t think of them as white elephants. You’ll eventually work out why you couldn’t live without having them. I mean, we have French onion soup bowls for 8 which we’ve used more often for serving shepherd’s pie rather than soup, egg cups (again for 8) that work more frequently as ice cream receptacles for those moments when I don’t really want the frozen dessert to melt all over the hot accompaniment I’m serving with it, 32 ASA porcelain spoons I bought for the day I decide to serve three small spoonsful of different things as a course (hasn’t happened yet, but it will a some point, I just know it). Square plates work great as trays, bowls look beautiful filled with flowers.

    My only advice is to stick to one or two over-arching visions. Patterns are lovely if you can picture a way of mixing and matching them (think along the lines of Japanese aesthetics). Or you could stick to one colour, or family of colours, and blend patterns. To keep our collection most versatile, we’ve kept it predominantly white. In terms of accents, we’ve opted for platinum/silver bands. I prefer not to have separate sets of plates for Asian and Western cuisines. I try to pick things that would work well in both contexts. But for an Asian accent, I might pick those huge Japanese ladle/spoons when I serve ramen, or stainless steel soup spoons when I serve laksa. Look at them as your culinary wardrobe.

  20. slurp! November 22, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    Hi CH & s,
    Thanks for your insights & advises.
    that got me thinking & planning how my future “wardrobe” should look like :)

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