Shane Kent, of Kent & Others, is a Melbourne-based lecturer, artist and ceramicist who trained in Japan in the late 1970s. His deep awareness and understanding of Eastern ceramics and its interpretation was a good fit for Golden Fields and the exploration into what form ‘the plate’ would take assumed many forms. Shane Kent says, “It didn’t want to dominate the food or space. We were looking for the quality of the Asian work that Andrew had seen when living there and that I had seen when I trained in Japan.”

“We did about 100 prototypes in four different versions,” says Kent. “The first ones were done quickly for a photo shoot and then adjustments needed to be made for functionality in a restaurant.”

The process of trial and error saw Kent’s research stretch to consider balance in form and functionality, particularly the constant wear and tear from daily restaurant service. While the first plates were beautiful, they were not going to stand up to the daily treatment in a restaurant environment. “These plates have a beautiful glaze but Andrew didn’t think the customers would like that, so we changed the glazes, which changed the form and the new glaze meant that the plates lost a lot of the magic.” Although when making something in larger numbers like plates for a restaurant, is it realistic to lose some magic or does the magic simply shift and become something else? “It’s realistic, because…the plates have to be made from my point of view but also from the point of view of the restaurant, so they are able to be made quickly.”

Kent’s intimate knowledge of the behaviour of glaze on porcelain and its practical application and aesthetic appeal led him to try a different glaze on a heavier plate. “Porcelain likes to be thrown thinly,” he explains. “The delicateness and translucence of porcelain is best seen when it’s thin and as soon as you make it heavier it loses some of the translucency. When that happens it looks more like commercially made work.

“The second lot I made, Andrew said, ‘Did you make these or did you buy them?’ I’d satisfied all the requirements but in doing so lost the quality. So the next step was to identify the original qualities, which is about…the pooling of the glaze and the softness of the glaze that commercial tableware doesn’t have.”
The term pooling refers to how glaze sits on the plate. “If you have a look you can see how the light works and it looks like a pool of water rather than a hard surface.” Kent directs the movement of light on the plate with his hand – it’s intricate, involved and studied. “Very little commercial work has any depth,” he says. “It has surface and form but you don’t see into it and don’t see the space…the space on the plate was the quality I had to come back to.”

To balance and enhance the statement these plates made, McConnell employed the talented eye of Zenta Tanaka and his wife Meg, who own Cibi cafe and design space in Collingwood, via which they import beautiful culinary pieces from Japan. “He [Andrew] would come in to the cafe and we always used to chat about business and food,” says Tanaka, a trained architect who moved to Australia from Japan 15 years ago. “He was open to the designs and the little pieces that were going to make the table settings beautiful for the customers.”

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Though it was the first time the Tanakas had worked with McConnell, or been commissioned to dress restaurant tables for that matter, they relished the opportunity, employing the services of distinguished Japanese designer Sori Yanagi to provide flatware, stainless steel service plates, teapots, teacups and coffee cups. “The cutlery was where we started,” he says. “Stainless steel on oak tables will look beautiful.”

Glasses for wine, beer and sake were Cibi’s job too, as well as salt and pepper containers, which take the form of tiny tin buckets, in reds, golds and blues. “Andrew wanted something whimsical and playful for the salt and pepper,” smiles Tanaka, “nothing too designed.”