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"Arts de la table", the end of formalism

Oval, square or rectangular: the shape of dishes is breaking away.The revolution of the Arts de la Table continues. Like the decoration of a property, they play a role in its personalisation. Moreover they allow the chef to fully express his creativity. But this doesn’t mean classic has been outmoded, instead it continues to hold its own in brasseries and traditional restaurants.

Classic tables laid with gold rimmed, round porcelain plates and silver flatware on white cloths are no longer the standard. The formalism of the Arts de la Table has evolved, giving way to creativity. A festival of bold forms is springing up on restaurant tables. Square, rectangular or oval plate; with broad rims that allow the chef to arrange his own decoration. Plates become the stage for cuisine. In the dining room, the table complements the meal’s production. Faced with increased competition, the most innovative chefs no longer stand out just for the quality of the contents of the dish, but for the overall environment of their property – a friendly setting and Arts de la Table with a designer feel. With these new shapes, the chef may fully express himself and surprise his guests. The advantages : stand out and develop the loyalty of clientele through an alternative pleasure that is renewed at each visit.Another element for consideration is the fashion of open kitchens. Previously the theatrics of cuisine took place in the kitchen. Now the show has moved into the dining room. This production theatrics before the client could lead to further changes in dining habits. “There will certainly be evolutions if this trend confirms itself. Perhaps more interactivity. Everything remains to be done,” admits Laurent Chignon. Increasingly competitive, with the arrival on the market of new competition from Turkey, Eastern Block countries and soon China, professionals, like restaurants, foresee the need for constant differentiation.While consumerism constantly demands increased rapidity, the Arts de la Table reflect this fast paced world. A restaurant no longer keeps the same matching set of crockery for years and years. “Menus change with the seasons. And the Arts de la Table associated with it change at the same rhythm,” remarks Christophe Decanter, sales director at Sarreguemines Vaisselle. Owner of the restaurant Ze Kitchen Galerie in Paris, William Ledeuil confirms this trend, explaining his impulsive approach: “I choose the shapes of dishes depending on my mood. Kind of like clothes: sometimes a set may stay in the cupboard for several months before I take it out again.”A new rule is developing: each dish has its plate. “Before, using different plate patterns on the same table simply weren’t used. Today, it’s no surprise to see four different types of plates,” rejoices Mikael Fouquet, director France of the Hotel-Restaurant division for Villeroy & Boch. In the contemporary restaurant, the chef uses unmatching crockery. “I am a proponent of crockery that follows a guideline. I am receptive to the aesthetic, with different geometric forms. Ideas for recipes are born out of an ingredient,” remarks William Ledeuil, while taking care to add: “it is not the packaging that makes the quality of a dish”.Arts de la Table specialists have integrated the new expectations of professionals. The crockery pattern Galice Galuchat from Sarreguemines Vaisselle, presented at the salon Equip Hotel 2005, is representative of the trend: it is very design, round or oval, with a broad rim. But above all, it is white the preferred coulour for three or four years now. And this trend, which is filtering down from the great restaurants to more modest addresses via products such as Sarreguemines Vaisselle’s “Space” range for mid-scale properties is not limited to France. “The same trend is spreading throughout Europe, in Anglo Saxon countries and in southern countries – although colours are holding out better in the south,” observes Mikaël Fouquet. One argument that plays in favour of this neutral colour is “its purity, its limpidity. Cuisine is a means of expression like painting: the dish is its canvas,” teaches William Ledeuil.But where has colour gone? While white is the direction dishes are headed in, it does not mean restaurant dining rooms are going in the same direction. The decor with its warm or soothing colours creates a convivial atmosphere. The same goes for the table. Tumblers, which are progressively replacing stemware for water, now come in a variety of colours. Another obvious solution for adding this touch of colour: tablecloths and napkins. “Colours that currently stand out alongside sure values such as Bordeaux or champagne are warm and ethnic, such as curry, terracotta, aubergine. Pastels such as anise green are very successful,” remarks Karen Marini, marketing assistant at Duni France, a specialist in single-use napkins and tablecloths, which are “very high quality products that resemble fabric”.Another strong trend for the Arts de la Table is the proliferation of small containers. As cultures cross, the dining culture is evolving. And it is necessary to look eastward to find the origin of this explosion of miniature dishes. At traditional banquets such as Japanese Kaiseki and meals for Chinese celebrations for example, guests see over a dozen dishes succeed one another on the table in small portions. And in the image of the Asian table, European-style meals now integrate the notion of sharing. The Bento concept from Villeroy & Boch, presented at Sirha end-January 2005, is openly inspired by traditions from the Far East. Its name is borrowed from the wood lunchbox used by the Japanese, in which several dishes nestle into one another: rice, meat, vegetables and sauces are arranged within it together and separately, and each food has its own little compartment.This complementary range is limited and consists of five round or oval dishes, which may be paired with five small dishes in porcelain or glass. “We have particularly worked on how the pieces fit into the dishes. Advantage: the foods served in the smaller dishes may be prepared in advance and brought to the right temperature when they are served.” This is an advantage for the kitchen where work may be done in ahead of time. The “Party plate” has just completed the Bento collection. Eating a meal quickly has become an imperative and lunch has often become a buffet. The “Party plate” resembles a painter’s palette. With a space created for a glass and another for placing canapés and sandwiches, it avoids many of the difficulties faced by mobile consumers.The “Grands Chefs” collection at Mikasa Hotel & Restaurant, through which Arc International launched a crusade in the upscale restaurant and luxury hotel market, is no exception to the rule of miniportions. The Caracter and Purity line is associated with a set of small dishes with geometric forms, “miniatures for appetisers”. With one technological trick: “a strip of silicone helps the tiny containers stay put on the dish,” explains Laurent Chignon, Marketing director for Food Service at Arc International. This dish that is synonymous with culinary creative freedom and ease of dining room service has no hole or set positions to it.While the components of the Arts de la Table are multiplying and reducing their size, their uses are also diversifying. Each article of crockery becomes multipurpose. The coffee cup may be used to serve consommé, a cocktail glass may be used for appetisers, water glasses or soup bowls for dessert: creativity is at its highest pitch. With no needfor reinvestment. “The ele- ments of table settings are no longer limited in their purposes. They may all be adapted to other functions,” observes Laurent Chignon.Glasses, meanwhile, are not a part of this miniaturisation. On the contrary, they are being “oversized”. To emphasise theatrics at the table, crockery has long entered a race for size. Dishes, particularly those used for serving, had grown. Now glassware is falling into step. Bigger, taller, more slender: large wine glasses are positioning themselves on restaurant tables. This shift does not have a purely aesthetic value. For amateurs of fine wines, this elevation is synonymous with better airing of the wine. In addition to this qualitative advantage may be added the fact that “a bottle is emptied in one or two services. The client orders again, and consumes more. Meanwhile, peripheral sales of beve- rages constitute an important share of a property’s margins,” remarks Laurent Chignon.As for place settings, there is no trend that stands out as much as this one. The fashion trend is for clean lines, as we see in the upmarket line Imagine, with its very trendy shapes from Sambonet. Nonetheless, new shapes are appearing. At this Italian manufacturer of place settings and flatware in inox and silver plate, the Linea Q series “imposes the square as timeless evidence,” according to Nicolas Rouget, Sambonet’s representative for France. This series of place settings and crockery is no exception to the rule and has grown with rectangular platters and small dishes. Tradition in the collection Hannah blends with modernity.Because, simultaneously, some properties persevere to resist in the invasion of “trendy” forms. Brasseries, those restaurants that bank on culinary heritage continue to appreciate a sober table, where the contents take precedence over the container. Better: classic is even modern.While innovative forms proliferate, nostalgia is also in fashion alongside the rediscovery of ancient values, of tradition. This aspect of things makes Mikaël Fouquet remark: “With these trends that are at once very design and very classic, we have never had such a wide choice”. But this does not mean the classic options are imperious to innovation. The range of crockery and flatware called Scala by Villeroy & Boch, presented at the last Equip’hotel salon, is certainly “Vieille France”, but its design revisits the 50s, combining a classic form with a modern decor. Instead of a round plate, it is oval and festooned. Its rims are sculpted, engraved.Modern or classic, what will the Arts de la Table of tomorrow bring us? According to Christophe Decanter, “the market is cyclical. Today, white and shapes carry the way. We will perhaps return to decoration one day, but not anytime soon”.

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