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High-end restaurants invest in tableware

Appreciating local food and ingredients is a well-established phenomenon in food culture. But there is also a high demand for local, small-batch ceramics.
Halko Jord / Kuva: Kimmo Metsäranta
Jörd: Saija Halko. Photo: Kimmo Metsäranta

Last week, restaurants were once again awarded with Michelin stars. The Michelin star is an international classification for the best restaurants and chefs in the world. While visiting many restaurants in Helsinki awarded with one Michelin star, you will often find a cup or plate designed and hand-produced by an Aalto student, graduate or staff member.

For several years already, the minimal tableware by Salla Luhtasela and Wesley Walters (Studio Kaksikko) has been used at Restaurant Ask. And in Restaurant Grön, you can find tableware produced by Saija Halko who will be graduating with a Master's Degree in Contemporary Design, and designer Anna Kantanen who graduated a few years ago.

For years, lecturer and ceramics designer Nathalie Lautenbacher taught tableware design projects at the Department of Design. Now, her tea and coffee sets give a final touch to meals at the newly renovated, renowned Restaurant Palace.

‘Tableware is not merely vessels and containers. Local food and appreciating local ingredients is a well-established phenomenon in Finnish food culture. Locally designed small-batch ceramics fits in this ideology perfectly. Many restaurateurs are willing to invest in hand-made tableware, even if it is more fragile and costs many times what industrially manufactured pieces do’, says Lautenbacher.

Interest in tableware design

The enthusiasm is not limited to the metropolitan area only – Saija Halko used Faeroese volcanic ash in her earth-tone Jørð clay set which she designed for the local two-Michelin-star Restaurant Koksi. Lautenbacher's workshop in Kauklahti has received orders from the high-end Restaurant Relæ in Copenhagen as well as the French-Japanese haute cuisine Restaurant LULL in Fukui, Japan.

‘As a design task, tableware is a kind of constant favourite. For years, we have given all first year design students the same design task: a table setting. It is a group of items whose shapes and material properties are concrete. A person's relationship to tableware is interesting – everyone has their personal experience of eating’, Lautenbacher says.

Recently, a competition tableware set designed as student work and produced at Aalto University workshops was awarded in the international chef championship Bocuse d´Or.

‘Students working with materials and designing for other people are required to be sensitive, have a sense of the material – and put in some elbow grease’, says Lautenbacher and laughs.

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