Tableware is an integral part of the dining experience and a vehicle for chefs to express their creativity
Gone are the days when only food mattered and presentation was secondary. Today, chefs are pushing the boundaries both in the kitchen, with unique dishes, and in plating them as a work of art. While the taste of the dish may lead to a guest overlooking a lacklustre presentation, sampling an aesthetic, well laid-out dish, undoubtedly gives the chef an opportunity to score brownie points from his diners. Tableware contributes significantly in raising the bar by reinforcing the thematic environment. Naturally then, tableware has gained paramount importance in hotels today.
Chef Vikas Milhoutra, executive chef, Taj Santacruz, Mumbai, concurs, â€śThe presentation is a driving factor in making cuisine an appealing experience for guests. At the Taj, we focus on food presentation, because â€śdressing upâ€ť the food plays the same role as dressing up does in our lives.â€ť
White still rules the roost among most chefs, as they prefer a pristine white canvas to create poetry on plate. Roberto Spagnoli, export area manager, Middle East and South West Asia, Sambonet Paderno Industrie SpA, opines, â€śThere are a large number of chefs who prefer white tableware, as this leaves a huge room for their creativity to be expressed while plating. Our aim at Rosenthal is, to give white porcelain solutions, but with its own character. For example, embossed or white on white designs, like our Loft range which is an evergreen piece, or Nendoo shapes with asymmetrical texture, or Mesh with its bamboo-like reliefs.â€ť
Their fetish for white notwithstanding, chefs have realised that colour and shape can add drama to the dining experience. Different textures, shapes and colours are, thus, being opted for by chefs to add a burst of colour and do away with monotony. Tableware is no longer merely round, white and extremely heavy to lift.
Vibrancy, fun and quirkiness have crept in without a doubt as chefs are ready to become adventurous. Square black plates, green triangular bowls, funky appetier spoons, embossed tapas plates, glazed earthenware, wooden platters and even a slate. The list of options in colours, shapes and textures, today is endless. And chefs are happy to choose from this exciting array, to give a punch to their presentation, as guests are fussed about the appearance of their meal, like never before.
Jayaraj Gopinath, senior GM, sales and marketing, Umberto Ceramics International Pvt Ltd, elaborates, â€śMore organic and uneven shapes are being preferred over the traditional ones, to give novelty to the food presentation. A mixture of contemporary shapes along with organic and traditional finish or glaze, is also preferred by the chefs in order to give more variety and vibrancy to their food presentation.â€ť
According to Spagnoli, glass seems to be popular again and he feels, â€śplaying with different materialsâ€ť is what chefs like nowadays.
Chef Teuku Syafrulsyah, executive chef, Park Hyatt Chennai, admits, â€śI always use tableware which is sleek and complements the dish, lifting up its personality. We also have to be very careful that the tableware or glassware we use, does not overpower the dish or drink. For chinaware, I prefer white bone china porcelain, for glassware, cut crystal glassware and good solid stainless steel for cutlery.â€ť
Chef Sahil Sabhlok, executive chef, The Claridges, New Delhi, echoes his sentiment, â€śTableware should not be complicated. It should have lesser textures, unless the dish itself has no textures. The colour of tableware enhances and elevates the food.â€ť
Even if the desire to allure a diner is overpowering, chefs never lose sight of functionality when selecting tableware. Overly designed plates with lots of colour, flowers, design, tend to detract the diner from food and hence, are best avoided. Also, the food served should be in accordance with the tableware. An item likely to spill over is generally never served on a tiny tapas plate or an appetizer spoon.
Every chef has his benchmarks for selecting tableware. Chef Milhoutra explains, â€śPrimarily, we have a three-fold criteria for tableware â€“ should be functional for plating, serving, and eating. In addition, we ensure that our glassware and tableware add vibrancy and is the right fit for the overall theme of the restaurant. We look at a diverse use of textures, look, and feel of the tableware and glassware across restaurants. The main aim of the effort that goes into plating up a dish, is to make it look as appealing as possible; the tableware should add to the panache of the dish.â€ť
Tableware and glassware can be fun, elegant, sophisticated, and is used primarily to enhance the visual appeal of the food, but must reinforce the ethos and concept of the restaurant where it is being used. Santosh Shetty, F&B director, Taj Santacruz Mumbai, reiterates, â€śAt the Taj family, where there is a variety of restaurants across hotels, we recce the type of cuisine being served at the restaurant, the kind of service, and the general theme of the establishment before conclusively finalising our glassware.â€ť
Glassware is something hotels give equal importance to says chef Sabhlok, â€śGlassware can make your cover set up, look elegant and fabulous and if not selected aptly, can be a complete disaster.â€ť
Gopinath agrees, â€śA clean and elegant glassware complements the porcelain tableware to give a rich feel to the dining experience for a guest.â€ť
Tableware over the years has undergone a revolution and hotels are gladly adapting themselves to the change. Chef Milhoutra states, â€śThe latest trends in tableware and glassware are a rediscovery of earthy looks, with a lot of colour. We are going back to basics, and moving away from the conventional glassware for fine-dining, towards more modest tableware, befitting the overall themes at our restaurants.â€ť
While sleek lines, fine edges, unique shapes may be eye catching, chefs even prefer vintage, handcrafted artisanal pieces. And brands offering tableware are matching up to industry needs. Gopinath quips, â€śRight from the fine dining elegant porcelain tableware to the more organic shapes and textures, Ariane Fine Porcelain, offers a wide range of traditional, contemporary, organic and region specific textures and colours in different shapes.â€ť
Chef Teuku shares that five-star hotels, generally use the classics, whereas, standalone restaurants and bars, take the contemporary route, as they are open to a lot more experimentation. He adds, â€śHowever, at The Flying Elephant, we are open to a mix and match of classic and contemporary, as today, consumers are looking for something new with a surprise element.â€ť
With chefs constantly on the lookout for something new, innovation is something brands need to indulge in. Spagnoli declares, â€śWe are one of the most innovative tableware manufacturers and are coming up with very different solutions. Our new Rosenthal JUNTO collection, will be something not to be missed.â€ť
While there is a plethora in tableware and glassware for hotels to choose from, they prefer to select wisely, within their budget, but never compromise on quality. A disparate mix of dinnerware, flatware and glassware can give maximum impact with minimum expense.
Saurabh Bhatnagar, F&B manager, Park Hyatt Chennai, is candid, â€śWe all have our budgets to abide by and it is important to synchronise cost with durability and quality. Compromising on cost can lead to low quality and durability will be in question.â€ť
Customised designs, flexibility and durability are what most hotels seek from their tableware brands. Realising this growing need, brands cater to their clients. They offer pieces that can be mixed and matched among each other, offering a lot of flexibility and room for creativity, thus reducing costs.
Selection criteria may differ at each hotel, but quality and durability is a must-have. Shetty quips, â€śOnce we have internally narrowed down on the kind of tableware we require, external factors such as the quality of the material, shape and pattern of the tableware become the deciding factor for the right choice.â€ť
Atul Lall, VP, hospitality and GM, The Claridges Hotels & Resorts, New Delhi, confesses, â€śOne of the vital factors governing the decision of buying glassware and tableware is the market positioning and ambience of the restaurant. Also, the choice of food selection, what the chef wants to showcase and in what manner, is important. Last but not the least, the cost of crockery plays an important factor.â€ť
Breakage and wastage is unarguably, an important aspect and hotels take adequate steps to minimise that. Care is taken while purchasing that tableware is sturdy enough to take operational handling, chip resistant, easily washable and stackable.
Shetty admits, â€śWe employ simple, yet efficient ways to ensure proper handling of the glassware and tableware used at our restaurants. Using the right washing methods to ensure hygiene is the most important element of caring for our glassware. We have proper storage and stacking methods in place, all to ensure that there is no wastage or breakage. In addition, it is crucial to maintain a proper Inventory Management System, and carry out practice inspections to train our employees and be prepared for such activities on a larger scale.â€ť
Lall adds, â€śApart from having an agile kitchen stewarding team, we buy our crockery line very strategically. For instance, in our high volume and busy restaurants, we buy tableware, which can be stacked easily to save space and also not clutter the dish wash area. Outdoors have more of wooden and rustic look tableware. Also, the areas wherever crockery is stored or stacked, we have anti-skid mats, which also help in preventing chipping or breaking of crockery and glassware on first impact, if at all anything falls.â€ť
Chefs have their own set of favourite brands like Bernardaud, Rosenthal, Ariane, Vileroy & Boch and others, which take care of their plating requirements. Chef Tueku elaborates, â€śPark Hyatt Chennai uses Bernardaud and Pillivuyt for chinaware, Spiegelau and Stoelzle for glassware. We have also started using a new line of ceramic plates in collaboration with a local artisan company from Pondicherry and we are amazed by the quality and cost efficiency. I have also used Narumi Japan, Bauscher Germany and Celadon Ceramic Thailand for chinaware, Schott Zwiesel for glassware and Hepp for cutlery.â€ť
Some of the brands used at Taj Santacruz, Mumbai include Narumi, Revol, Tata Ceramics and Ariane, while chef Sabhlok prefers Pordamsa, Seltmann, Revol, RAK and Vileroy & Boch, for tableware, Riedel, Arcoroc for glassware and La Tavola, Dudson for his cutlery. Ariane is a popular choice for hotels including Marriott, Taj, ITC, Hyatt, Le Meridien, Hilton, Radisson, Sarovar, Fortune, Novotel, Ibis and many more.
Whatever be the criteria for selection of tableware in hotels, chefs must always be consulted, hotels agree unanimously on that. After all, plates are a palette for the chef.
Spagnoli sums up, â€śOne of the biggest attractions of a restaurant, apart from its food, is the way it is presented.â€ť Tableware is thus, understandably a priority for hotels today.