We talked to Japanese food stylist Midori Takahashi about the appeal of Japanese handcrafted artisan tableware. For Ms. Takashi, what does good tableware mean for a quality life and a pleasing dining experience?
What is it about being a food stylist that attracts you?
I find it fun that I am able to share my favorite dining with others. For me, food styling is not about being a gourmet or how good I am at cooking. It’s about relaxing and enjoying good food in your own home. Serving food that you have made yourself on your favorite tableware makes it look so delicious. It’s similar to that lovely feeling you get when you wear a new outfit in the springtime. I get excited to see a wet and shining dish I’ve bought and just washed the first time, preparing it to be used. I’ve relished in this feeling for many years, and I want to let other people know through my cookbooks that this is not something special to just me.
When I was younger, I was so busy with work and I noticed something. I was too busy to cook my own food at home, but I was working on a home cooking book. For me as a food stylist, meaning and reality completely disappear if I’m not cooking as a part of my daily life. It does make more sense to learn about tableware and food from someone who is really enjoying her meals regularly, rather than from someone with boring eating habits.
When people say, “Eating alone at home makes me feel lonely,” I want to tell them, “No! Not at all! Eating alone can be wonderful!” For me, even when I was living alone, I’ve always taken great pleasure in my meals. I think it is important to appreciate mealtime instead of worrying about how many people your are eating with.
My husband and I are both eat and drink quite a bit (laughs), so when we’re drinking together he’ll announce “OK, I’m cooking this time,” and get up and start making us something. Our conversation also usually ends up with us getting more enthusiastic and one of us suggesting we open another bottle of wine.
A Dining Table is Like a Bookshelf
People often ask me what tableware they should buy. I tell them to first think about what kind of food they usually eat. Once they think about it, they might realize that although they love French or Italian when they go out, they prefer to make grilled fish with rice at home. In that case, it’s clear they need rice bowls, which substantially increases the presentation of rice, and flat plates.
There are no rules when selecting tableware. I do want to stress, however, that tableware is meant to be used. It’s not just decoration. Sometimes you will make mistakes when picking out tableware, but you shouldn’t let your fear of failure stop you! If you’ve tried, but find that you just can’t use a piece or set you’ve bought, you can give it away as a gift to someone you think might appreciate it.
In my book, I often write, “My tableware” and “Your tableware.” That means you have to know what kind of dishes you prefer. It’s the same as when women know what kind of clothes and makeup suits their personal style. I believe it’s more fun if you think of tableware the same way.
Just like a bookshelf, a person’s dining table is unique to them. It is not about “right” or “wrong”. Let’s say you are invited to a friend’s house. Even if they don’t serve anything extravagant, if their dining table expresses something unique about them, I think that’s great.
What do you consider good tableware?
I prefer tableware that has been created not for the artist’s self-assertion, but with the feeling that the artist wanted to create something worthwhile that makes people want to serve delicious food on it. After thinking about it, I’ve notice that I have often chosen those types of dishes. An artist’s name is best remembered occasionally. I love generous tableware capable of holding whatever I put on it.
Would it concern you if tableware were to disappear completely from society?
I might or I might not (laughs). Even leaves can be used to serve food… but, yes, I think tableware is very important.
What things are you doing now that you enjoy?
We are now on our ninth year running our shop in Kuroiso, Tochigi prefecture where my husband’s parents’ home is located. We discovered a charming warehouse and decided to live there, but because it was so spacious, we opened a store and started our double-life moving between Kuroiso and Tokyo. We’ve changed what we offer at the store through trial and error over the years, but right now we have antique pieces from Tamiser, my husband’s antique shop in Tokyo, as well as contemporary tableware. We also have new and old cookbooks, handy baskets, and tote bags, and other things. We sell items that we’ve used and were convinced by. Since I’m the shopkeeper, most things we offer are probably related to food in some way. I love getting to talk to customers from all over the country about food and dining. Sometimes we’ll start talking about the taste of olive oil and then end up discussing a great recipe and I’ll tell them of a nearby shop that sells seasonal vegetables and that they should try making it that night.
There is no difference between creating cookbooks and opening own shop. I take great pleasure in meeting the people who read my books. It makes me want to open the door of my shop and just wait for everyone to stop by.
Do you have a message you can give us for Hanada tableware shop?
When I am looking for new tableware, Hanada is the first place I visit because I find their selection to not be over-selected. They have an extensive collection of tableware that provides a sense of standard and classic instead of following all the latest trends. It is essential that a store stocks the obvious, such as rice bowls and other simple things or pots in the wintertime. You can’t actually complete your dining table at home by just buying from a limited number of artists.
Of course, a store policy is also necessary. I also prefer stores with staff that love the items they stock. A long time ago, I was impressed by Hanada’s packaging of something I had received through the mail. I could see their attitude and sense just in the packaging.
I could feel their sincerity the moment I opened it. There’s nothing visiting a store where they have a proper attitude towards their business. It’s the kind of feeling that makes me want to continue associating with a store for a long time