Asian and Western Dinner & Style
Two cultures – one language of form
How did the moon become a source of inspiration for your new dinner service?
At the start of 2015, RAK Porcelain and I came up with the idea for a fine dining service hat would combine elements of both Asian and Western cuisine. When we started looking for a common theme for Asian & Western Dinner & Style, we settled on the moon relative quickly. It connects East and West in a very simple way – as a symbol, it has great emotional significance for everyone, no matter where they come from. Of course, the moon is also a very graphic motif. As you know, I like to take a graphical approach to my work, building my designs on simple geometric principles, so this form suited me very well.
What exactly is new and unique about MOON?
What’s new about MOON is the way we bring together Western and Asian cuisine. We have succeeded in unifying two very different cultures through the use of a single language of form. MOON is a truly multifunctional service, and the symbol of the moon gives it an emotional link to both cultures. I also find it fascinating to see how important this topic currently is on a socio-political level. Issues of East and West – Islam and Christianity – have been very prominent in the past few months, and since the wave of refugees that began last summer, they have become a story that affects us all. As a result, MOON is the perfect addition to the market right now. On top of all this, MOON very clearly embodies the RAK Porcelain philosophy, as while the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is located in the Middle East, its large headquarters in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg also anchors it in the heart of Europe. RAK Porcelain is a cross-cultural porcelain brand unlike any other in the world, and MOON is a direct representation of that.
How did you apply this philosophy in practice?
Let’s take a look at the example of the cups. We designed six cups in the Western style, four of which were re-used for the Eastern style. We took a very long time and a great deal of care over the adaptation, because we wanted to be sure that we weren’t making any mistakes in the culture we were less familiar with. I worked with a Chinese designer on this aspect, who checked all the pieces for the Eastern style from her perspective. We then tested our models in Asian restaurants as well, where they were received very positively. It was a great feeling when we realised that there were hardly any pieces that we had failed to find a cross-cultural solution for – a multifunctional solution. For most of the items, we were able to answer the questions “What is truly Asian?» and «What is truly Western?” with one and the same form. But despite that, as far as I know this has never been done before. That makes it a huge step both for RAK Porcelain and for me personally, and we’re looking forward to presenting it to the world.
“ MOON very clearly embodies the RAK Porcelain philosophy.”
How exactly is this multifunctional approach realised in the MOON series?
Well, let’s take one item – say the egg cups. The idea of designing a Western egg cup wasn’t particularly exciting to me, in and of itself. So we did some research and found out that we could also make a standard 40 ml sake cup out of it. We then made a second size as well, as a gourmet/egg cup. This allows chefs to place extra emphasis on a particular detail of their dish.
And could you give us an example of one of the more Eastern-style pieces?
The round gourmet platter obviously has a stronger Asian cultural influence. The soy sauce goes in the indent in the middle, and the sushi pieces go around the outside. The slightly raised half-moon then forms a decorative area for the wasabi and ginger. Or if you want a piece more typical of the Chinese kitchen, then we have the round table where each dish is presented on a rotating platter. The guests serve themselves from the middle. So our design for the Eastern style echoes the culinary culture. In the European kitchen, the plates are ideal for presenting dips with vegetables or even chicken.
“ We have succeeded in unifying two very different cultures through the use of a single language of form.”
How did you vary the moon motif throughout the series?
In itself, the circle isn’t a particularly interesting motif – it’s quite static. But if you move away from the exact lines a little, it adds a lot more life to it, and of course the circle starts looking like a full moon. And even once you’ve defined a segment of a circle, you can keep varying it depending on which piece you want to use it on. So, basically all you need is one good idea. What is really appealing, first and foremost, is if a motif that seems decorative is actually functional as well. Of course, the half-moon is a powerful emotional symbol. On top of that, you know as soon as you see the plates how you’re meant to hold them. Protected areas for holding plates are very important in the world of catering, so that you don’t end up putting your hands in the food. The way the plates are divided is just as important. On the square plates, we deliberately divided the half-moon differently to on the coupe plates. But we still made sure the motif was more than simply decoration, too. On the saucers, the relief line of the crescent stops the spoon from slipping off. And of course, even if a plate has a raised half-moon on it, it still has to be stackable.
Did the MOON series present any particular challenges, either for you as a designer or for RAK Porcelain as a manufacturer?
Did it ever! Firstly, we had to harmonise the differences in the two culinary cultures, while at the same time finding a compact way of bringing together their different standard units. And on top of that, of course, we had to develop a new, unique language of form with emotional appeal. We also wanted to include special gourmet items to make the series even more attractive and offer chefs a range of options for how to use the pieces. Since food in Asia is often covered when it is served, we structured MOON in such a way that each bowl has a plate that fits on top of it. Maybe not every chef will use it that way, but I hope some of them make use of the option, maybe even as an additional presentation surface. The plates also have a little guide line on the underside to prevent them from slipping during serving. It’s a very decorative element, but the aim is also always to ensure stability. The design has a function, it’s decorative and it’s easy to handle – thus bringing together the three elements that are important to me in all my work. In the Western style it is the platters and plates that need to be easy to handle, while in the Eastern style it’s the bowls, which the guests hold in their hands while they eat. This gave us the basic form we needed to use: that of a footed bowl. We always work with 1:1 prototypes when developing our designs, which are produced on-site in our own
studio. I often see ways of improving the model while it is being turned or processed, so I implement them straight away.
Which brings us to the second challenge…
The second challenge was the units of measurement. This is very important – we structured the entire range in such a way that the dimensions would have a Western value for Western cuisine and an Eastern value for Asian cuisine. Of course, there are standards for the pots (tea 450 ml, coffee 350 ml), and that’s what we have to supply. So we looked for other functions for the hollow Western pieces, with the idea of keeping the body the same but changing the function. That was how our Western 150 and 350 ml pots became the 1 and 2 gosake flasks (the go- is a special unit for sake volume), allowing us to keep roughly to the dimensions used in Asian cuisine while still using our Western servers. I’m very satisfied with the result: the pieces have a great, stable base, but still very elegant lines. And they are like nothing else on the market! Unique style is extremely important to me. If we can’t find anything that sets us apart and is new, even in terms of functionality, then I’ve done something wrong.
And challenge number three?
A cloche is an attractive item for the gourmet kitchen, but also a very difficult one, as it takes up a lot of space and isn’t always in use. On the other hand, it’s very important for presenting highlights of the meal in secret, or as a surprise. Our cloche has a recess on the top to allow a good grip, and we gave it a different design on the inside so it can be stacked, which is rarely the case. The cloche also serves as a link between an important item in the Western kitchen and the Asian kitchen: as a cover for the bamboo baskets that are so essential in Asian cuisine. On the 27 cm Western plates, the cloche also sits perfectly in the centre of the half-moon, which stops it from slipping. There is also a matching gourmet platter that has a variety of uses in both cultures. Because of all its details, the gourmet platter is a complex piece for RAK Porcelain to make. The basic challenge for us was this: How do we make presentation in fine dining even more exciting? How do we make room for unusual specialities without turning people off?
MOON is also made of the new POLARIS white porcelain, a thinner material that is perfect for fine dining. Right from the start, MOON was aimed at high-end cuisine. The collection now boasts over sixty pieces, which just goes to show how much the motif and its symbolism inspired us. And RAK Porcelain have truly outdone themselves in terms of quality. But then, RAK Porcelain always does!
Is MOON also suitable for buffets?
Absolutely! As a designer, graphics are always very important to me. I want my crockery to look good as soon as the table is set, before the food has even arrived. That’s why we play with a lot of graphical elements and bounce the variations off one another. And since I’ve spent quite a lot of time working in the buffet sector myself, where making the most of a small space is all-important, I wanted the MOON collection to allow good presentation, too.
Mikaela Dörfel grew up in Finland, which is where she developed her love of Scandinavian forms. She has now settled down in an old farmhouse surrounded by horses, meadows and scattered ponds. The inspiration for her design work also comes directly from the natural world, and is supported by a clear structure. For over 15 years, she has been working from her design studio north of Hamburg, and her customers include brands from all over Europe, Asia and the USA. Mikaela Dörfel employs a hands-on approach to design and loves feeling the porcelain against her fingertips as she checks the practicality of her forms for day-to-day use. Her love of form has led her to create collection pieces that avoid the whims of trends and are designed to last. Some of her collections have now been in existence for several decades. She has a special relationship with Asia, which is inspired primarily by its cuisine: sushi & sashimi, dumplings and meals containing plenty of ginger and coriander top her list of favourite dishes. She has also travelled to Asia many times to take in the wonders of China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan.
Originally published on rakporcelain.com