A dining-cum-design event that toasts Toronto’s artisans.
BY: Eric Mutrie
For Catherine Osborne, it wasn’t just culinary inspiration that a meal at Sweden’s national gallery served up last winter—it was also a novel approach to place settings. “From the salt and pepper shakers to the glasses, everything was from Stockholm,” Osborne says. “It made for a beautiful celebration of the city.” As a board member for DesignTO, Toronto’s annual design festival, Osborne began exploring how she could showcase her own city’s artisans in a similar way. While she initially pitched a modest plan—“just locally made teacups at a coffee shop”—to DesignTO artistic director Deborah Wang, the duo’s subsequent brainstorming soon led to an ambitious concept: Plated, a ticketed January dinner for 35 that would employ almost exclusively Toronto-made servingware, followed by a one-week exhibition displaying the designs at catering partner and event space The Tempered Room. The first order of business was finding an eclectic but harmonious mix of designs. Led by word-of-mouth referrals, Osborne established a selection of interested glass-blowers and ceramicists, many of whom carve out time for their own design work alongside other employment in the food industry. Patrick Yeung, who contributed the evening’s soup bowls, salad plates and teapots, works two nights a week at Enoteca Sociale and incorporates ash from Pizzeria Libretto’s ovens into his glazes. Meanwhile, Talia Silva, who produced Plated’s mugs and tumblers, works by day as a designer for kitchen brand Scavolini. In total, 11 local creatives and studios contributed to the event, including Castor Design, Dear Human and Felt Studio.
Osborne’s next big challenge was locking down a venue. She turned to Shaun Moore, owner of design studio Made, and florist Todd Caldwell, who had previously hosted her in their Geary Avenue live/work loft at their own large feasts. “Between our dining room, Todd’s meeting room and a display model in my showroom, we have three matching dinner tables and a ridiculous number of chairs,” says Moore. Caldwell also sourced the evening’s anemones, tulips and ranunculus to complement the black, white, grey and pink colour scheme of Osborne’s planned tablescape. While Moore received many fragile deliveries at his downstairs business in the days leading up to the dinner, several key contributions didn’t arrive until just hours before the event. “I knew things were handmade, and that takes time,” Osborne says. “But even after I’d checked that everything was on track, there was a moment where I thought I’d be running out to buy paper dishware.” In the end, it all came together—and the “gobsmackingly beautiful” results Osborne observed as she brought her mock-ups to life proved worth the wait. The dinner’s pièce de résistance was a scaled-down version of a room-size sculpture by Vanessa Jackson that Osborne had encountered at the Samara Contemporary gallery. Inspired by a water fountain, the centrepiece adorned metal arcs with playful wooden beads. “I originally planned for the beads to be shaped like droplets,” Jackson says. “But then I realized I actually didn’t want them all to look the same and ended up going wild-style at the lathe.”
For the meal’s five courses—assembled in the kitchen of Moore and Caldwell’s helpful neighbours and complemented by pairings from Trail Estate Winery—Tempered Room chef de cuisine Greg Laird set a menu that took advantage of the shapes and stories behind the dinner’s distinctive servingware, presented to him by Osborne in catalogue form a month before the event. After learning that Castor Design’s tank bowls were made from the bottom ends of fire extinguishers, Laird developed an idea for a hot-meets-cold dessert: chocolate ganache with a frozen gelée centre. In a surprise twist that added to the night’s cozy ambiance, Plated fell during one of the year’s biggest snowstorms. Of course, as the meal went on to prove, not only can Toronto match Stockholm’s winters; it can keep pace with its design scene too