IN THE NEWS
A Collaboration of Ceramics
& Cuisine | Artisan John Shedd
finds great satisfaction in creating
serving pieces for area eateries
Cristina Rojas/The Times of Trenton- February 17, 2014
Inside John Shedd’s Rocky Hill studio, clay dust coats the work tables, and shelves are lined with ceramic pieces, some freshly fired, others finished: plates, serving dishes, and more in various sizes and colors.Some represents work for individual clients. Others represent a niche he has found, creating ceramic tiles and dinnerware for area restaurants. “I could stay in my own backyard and work,” he said. He has worked with Tre Piani in Plainsboro, ONE 53 in Rocky Hill and, most recently, Elements and Mistral in Princeton, for which he regularly crafts custom serving pieces.
Shedd bought the former 18th-century gristmill in Somerset County in 1979, transforming the building into a work space and gallery. For more than 15 years, he showcased his work all over the country at major craft fairs and galleries.When the show grind became too much, he curtailed that work, coming back to his home studio. Then a request to make 14 pieces turned into something more when the client went on to a job at Starwood Hotels and Resorts as a procurement officer.
Starwood commissioned Shedd to do pieces for its restaurants in the Southwest, and though the work was rewarding, the demanding schedule left him with little time and space to do anything else.“It was an all-or-nothing affair,” Shedd said. “I had gone out to be part of a national scene, come home because it was just too hard, only to find myself back in the national scene sending stuff to New Mexico and Arizona.”After all, the very reason he had quit the show circuit was to be able to work closer to the person who would enjoy the piece.“When spontaneity is a concern, you’re trying to be quick and it’s a big help if the person you’re trying to do it for is right here,” Shedd said. “That’s been the real thrill about working with local restaurants. … You can’t keep creating things with no feedback.”
Shedd completed his last piece for Starwood in 2002 and began his work with restaurants in the mid-2000s, but the pace has picked up in the last three years since he began collaborating with Scott Anderson, the chef-owner of Elements and Mistral.
The menu at Mistral, for example, offers a variety of small plates, allowing Shedd to craft serving pieces, platters and bowls in different shapes, sizes and colors.“If you go for a tasting, you can see seven or eight entrees,” Shedd said. “So for each little story, they want a different piece.”Creativity is at the forefront, and the ideas for pieces often evolve over time, he said.There is a synergy between the food and serving pieces, said Anderson, who has always had an interest in hand-thrown pieces.
“Our food is very organic and his stuff is very organic so when it comes out, it’s not just food on a white plate,” he said. “It really matches and holds up to the integrity of the food.”Anderson, who commissions Shedd every few months, said the pieces are often a conversation starter.“A table of four will all get a scallop dish and they’ll be on different plates,” he said. “People talk about it and it’s really neat.”
Some of Anderson’s favorite pieces are the ones where he gave Shedd more artistic freedom, he said.Ceramics is as much an art as it is a science, Shedd said. He throws porcelain casseroles, tableware and vases in rich, colorful glazes from his own formulas, which can take anywhere from six months to several years to perfect. (Click here for full story...)
Local Potter Teams Up With Chefs To Create Serviceware To Compliment Their Food
Art potter John Shedd has found a perfect niche working in collaboration with restauranteurs and chefs specializing in locally sourced artisanal fare. It’s an arrangement that brings together hand-crafted ceramics with culinary creations.Restaurants Mistral, elements, and Tre Piani are among those using Mr. Shedd’s unique serving pieces for their customers.
“Scott Anderson [who owns both Mistral and elements] came by my studio about three years ago and commissioned some sushi trays. We had known each other since Scott’s days at the Ryland Inn and when he opened elements in Princeton he commissioned work from me. It all developed from there,” said Mr. Shedd last week at Mistral.
“It’s tremendous working with Scott and with other local chefs,” said Mr. Shedd, who clearly relishes the challenge of fulfilling a demand for small editions of unique items designed to compliment rather than compete with a chef’s culinarycreations.Sometimes a request will take the potter in new directions as when Mr. Anderson asked for a bowl that would look like a rock. “I had three weeks to come up with a design, carve a model from soapstone and then make about 120 pieces,” recalled Mr. Shedd. “It was for an event and each of the 80 dinner guests took a bowl home with them, that was a very nice touch.”Mistral offers small plates using fresh local fare. Chef Ben Nerenhausen’s menu has been described as “varied and inventive.” “I’ve been working with Mistral for some time now and I love working with Ben,” said the potter of the restaurant where the dishes are inspired by many cultures including Mediterranean, Asian and regional American.
“Our style is organic and distinctive and as far from cookie cutter as you can get,” said Mr. Nerenhausen. “We prepare unique dishes and, since people eat first with their eyes, we recognize the importance of presentation. John is able to provide us with serving plates, platters, and bowls in the different shapes and sizes we need. The pieces he creates evoke dishes such as these red and yellow beets on this earthern plate that is perfectly rustic, almost torn from the earth,” he said, referencing a rectangular platter with a deep brown red glaze on which rested a selection of beets and spoonfuls of creme fraiche. The presentation made the humble root vegetable look ravishing as well as scrumptious.
“It’s fun to have someone with a definite idea of what they want,” said Mr. Shedd. “The reciprocal feedback forms a loop which is very satisfying and it’s wonderful to see an application for what I do.”Working for chefs is not new to the potter who has, in the past, produced items for the then chef at Jasna Polana. In addition to dinnerware, he creates serving pieces and does decorative tile work (including Mistral’s signature design of a wind-blown tree). “I much prefer this to anything else that I do,” he said, adding that there is also “something special about working with a small enterprise, not too big, not too small, hands-on and personal. People who have eaten in the restaurants notice the way their food is served. They often ask about the plates and then come to the gallery to purchase items for their own tables.”
The potter’s wife Sloane Browning is a decorative painter who shares her husband’s interest in glazes. The couple live in Griggstown not far from the gallery/studio.
Born in Rockford, Illinois, Mr. Shedd came to New Jersey by way of New Mexico and South Carolina. He settled in the Princeton area in 1979 and opened his Rocky Hill studio that year in a 200-year-old converted mill near the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The building was once a gristmill and dates back to the early 1700s. It is now part of the Rocky Hill Historic Preservation District.Having grown up on a farm, Mr. Shedd has always felt close to the earth. But he broke from family tradition and discovered a talent for working with the earth in a different way when he took a ceramics class as a student at Rockford College. After receiving a BFA in ceramics, he went onto graduate work at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, receiving an MFA in ceramics in 1977. Since then, his work has been featured in many individual and group shows and exhibited in shops and galleries nationwideThe potter/artist believes that art and culture should be accessible to all in everyday life. Exploring glazes and ceramic surface decoration has captivated hisinterest for more than 30 years. It is work that rewards in terms of artistic honesty, or as Mr. Shedd puts it: “the honest embodiment of the beauty inherent in a natural material.”
John Shedd Designs, located at 200 Washington St Rocky Hill, showcases the range of Mr. Shedd’s creations, from platters pitchers, vases, backsplashes and candlesticks to lamps and tilework. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.For more information, call (609) 924-6394, or visit: www.johnshedddesigns.com.
For more on Mistral at 66 Witherspoon Street, call (609) 688-8808, or visit: www.mistralprinceton.com; for more on elements at 163 Bayard Lane, call (609) 924.0078, or visit:
Small Plates, and a Taste of Many Cultures
A Review of Mistral Restaurant, in Princeton
While you sip, admire the décor. Except for the touch of French provincial in the glass doors and cafe curtains, it evokes Japan, which is not surprising. Mr. Anderson spent much of his childhood there. Trimmed in beautiful woods and muted greens and blues, the large, open space is spare and restful.
The cuisine, which consists of a variety of small plates, bears the influence of many cultures, including Mediterranean, Asian and regional American. The fluke sashimi, for example, is mostly Japanese, but the irresistible smear of smoked avocado, butter, cream and lemon juice and the dabs of bracing tomatillo jelly on the plate add a lively Spanish touch. Every element of this dish, with its mix of smooth and crunchy textures, and bold and gentle flavors, is perfect. Even the plate, with its vague suggestion of water lilies, seems as if it had been designed specifically for the fluke. It and several other serving pieces were, in fact, created for Mistral by John Shedd, a local artist.
Guest Chefs and Artisans at elements
Elements Chef Scott Anderson launches his summer “Chefs & Craftsmen” series on May 17, teaming up top cooks and artisans from coast to coast, right here in Princeton.“My team and I wanted put together dinners that honor masters of their crafts—from chefs around the country that I have to utmost respect for, to fermentation experts, and even designers,” explains Anderson. “There’s a strong interplay between what each of us creates, and bringing all of these elements together is going to make for a whole that is greater than each individually.
On Monday, June 24, elements welcomes Chef Dominique Crenn & ceramics Designer John Shedd. Chef Crenn, of the two Michelin starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, CA, will work in conjunction with local New Jersey designer John Shedd to produce a memorable seven-course tasting event. Shedd, who regularly creates custom plates and bowls for elements, is designing a piece of service ware that will aesthetically complement one of Crenn’s dishes that the evening, based upon her personal sketches. As a special treat, all guests will receive hand crafted artisan pottery to take home. The event is $120 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity, with an optional $45 beverage pairing. The evening begins with hors d’oeuvres at 6:00pm, followed by a seated dinner at 6:30pm.