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Jorge Nabel spotted me from across the patio at a recent celebration at La Mar Cebichería in Buenos Aires. He waved me over just as I was about to shovel an oversized bite of ceviche into my mouth and greeted me with a friendly kiss on the cheek, “I am Jorge. The ceramist,” he said with a huge grin. “This is Ariel and Leila, the other ceramists,” he added, introducing me to his friends. I had been in contact with group, along with ceramic artist Luis Goldfarb, since noticing their breathtaking handmade tableware at Argentina’s best restaurants. Over the past decade, renowned global restaurants have traded plain white plates for custom-designed pieces, but in Argentina, the trend is new. Curious to learn more about their craft, I sought out these talented ceramists, the unsung culinary heroes behind these stellar creations, for some enlightenment.
Cecilia Puglia and Luis Goldfarb are the wife-husband team behind Luis Goldfarb Studio. Between the two of them, their skills cover ceramics, graphic design, and typography, and as Luis explains “There wasn’t a lot of work in graphic design, and since our jobs are very similar, we thought we would team up and do something together. The idea was to incorporate typography, ceramics, and design.” Due to Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001, they had planned to move their family to Israel, but after September 11th they instead moved to a small town in the Córdoba province. They began designing gastronomic pieces in 1994, creating spice racks for the legendary Gato Negro Café, as well as taking on other non-food related projects like restoring the historical mosaics in the Teatro Colón, but once they started creating custom pieces for chefs, their daughter created a Facebook page and orders began pouring in from cooks across the country. “It’s not physically possible to keep up with the high demand,” they said.
To Luis and Cecilia, there are three important factors to consider when creating quality tableware for restaurants: a design background, ceramics knowledge, and a passion for cooking and the culinary arts. “I’ve loved cooking since I was 19 years old,” Luis reminisced. “When my wife and I first started dating — which was way before food became trendy — we would sit in a bar and I would recite the recipes from a French cookbook as if it was poetry!” The pair are inspired by gastronomic ideas of the great chefs of the world, like René Redzepi and Magnus Nilsson. They study presentation techniques and make ceramics that accompany these ideas. “It’s not just about the visual aspect, we have to think about the entire experience. A robust dish with a certain color and texture is a different experience than eating off of a bright white plate that looks like a toilet seat cover,” explains Luis.
“For me, a good design is all about taking away, not adding on,” Cecilia said, elaborating on the fact that it can take hours defining the curve of a plate, the proportions of a bowl, not to mention the issue of aesthetics and countless durability trials. “We don’t just look at the shape, we perform a formal study of precise proportions. That is how we differ from other ceramists, because to us, the important part isn’t just in the artisan craft, or the decoration. Here, the key is in the design. We see ceramics from a design perspective, and not the other way around.”
Luis Goldfarb Studio’s work can be seen at restaurants like Chila, Sucre, La Bourgogne, Alvear Hotel, Elena, Palacio Duhau, Cassis, among others.
No two pieces are alike at ARDE, created by plastic artists and art professors Ariel Walter and Leila Córdoba. Their style is inspired mostly by Asian art and artists like Euan Craig, an Australian ceramist in Japan. Additionally, the duo belong to Fragmentos, a group of artists who investigate and reinterpret traditional Asian glazes. “It is interesting to think about the moment when a dish is served at the table,” they told me. “At this point, the dish accompanies and carries the food, which is the protagonist, and the dishware is the supporting character. But, as you go through the act of eating, the dish becomes more exposed, gaining a presence, until it becomes the main character and the food is gone.”
One of their favorite parts of creating functional pieces that contain food is the process working with chefs. Generally, they meet with the chef at their showroom to discuss colors, sizes, and textures — giving chefs the opportunity to feel the weight of each piece, as well as understanding the quality and color palette. From there, they re-design some of their pieces to match the chef’s vision, or create something entirely new. “The best experience we’ve had up until now has been with Anthony Vásquez from La Mar because we worked together to create customized pieces that look more like sculptures than dishware.” For example, they created a piece to mimic an octopus tentacle and used to serve either a single or series of nigiris. Some of their favorite pieces are called Cuencos Roca and Cuencos Glaciar, manually made irregular shapes with a ragged texture that looks like a rock or glacier. “We wanted to create a piece with the spirit of the sea, rocky landscape, and stone.”
ARDE’s pieces can be found at restaurants like La Mar, Osaka, I Latina, Asato Sushi, La Alacena, El Baqueano, Los Petersen Cocineros and Cervecería Patagonia.
Jorge Nabel started his professional career as a ceramist and plastic artist over 20 years ago. He describes his style in the same way as he identifies his workshop, “Urban Pottery,” rusticity in the big city, where nature is always present. “A few years ago, a friend told me something that perfectly summarizes the relationship between food and tableware,” Nabel explained. “Your plates make me want to be a better cook.”
While Nabel has years of experience creating decorative works of art, creating “edible” pieces requires another set of skills. “The big difference has to do with functional considerations: the weight, appropriate shape for what will be served, and durability. The idea is that the food shines. I like when the dishware is subtle, so that it accompanies instead of dominating. I don’t want to tell you a story, instead, I am looking to invoke feelings, your senses, something more emotional.”
Nabel doesn’t have a favorite piece, but often thinks about the greatest challenges he overcame. “I was working on a piece of various formations: a boat, a canoe, and caravel. At the time, La Mar also asked me if I could develop a wooden boat for the restaurant,” he said. So, Nabel began to investigate, forming clay slabs as if they were wood, adding iron enamel and began to shape the boat. “The first batch came out totally wrong, it inflated like a balloon because the oven wasn’t hot enough. But the second batch came out so beautiful, really some of my best work. Two days later it was part of a Japanese-oriented pottery show at the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires,” he told me.
Nabel’s custom-made piece can be found in restaurants like La Mar Cebichería, I Latina, and the garage turned bakery, Salvaje.