Monday, November 14, 2016

Picking up a new hobby

“What I like best is the challenge of learning something I didn't know how to do, going beyond my comfort level.” - Ruth Reichl.

Recently I picked up a new hobby of ceramics making. I am always fascinated at the intrinsic relationship between crockery and culinary arts, a concept especially running deep in Asian culture, made famous by the likes of Kitaoji Rosanjin, a influential Japanese foodie/chef/artist.

I have always admired the life and work of Kitaoji Rosanjin (北大路魯山人) – a true Renaissance man of many talents and most importantly a food connoisseur, who has profound influence in modern Japanese culinary culture long after his death in 1959. I am amazed at the things he wrote about food and cooking which remained so relevant to date as it was when he wrote that decades ago. Starting off as an esteemed calligrapher at very young age, he was a great chef and founded the Bishoku Club, a high-end private kitchen, in 1920, attracting the high society clientele in Tokyo, long before terms like “Celebrity Chef” or “Supper Club” even became a thing.

He was also the one emphasizing the close relationship between the food and the tableware they were served in, proclaiming "tableware is the kimono for food". At Bishoku Club, he began serving his dishes on his own collection of antique china, and later on, began making his own ceramics and lacquer-ware after his collection was lost in the earthquake, establishing a workshop, hiring a team of potters and ceramicists, and re-build some of the antique kilns to produce some of the finest tableware, which has now became sort-after items in antique stores and auction houses. One of the highlights of my trip to Kyoto last year was to stop by the National Museum of Modern Art for the exhibition showcasing some of his collection.

Inspired by Rosanjin and hoping one day I will be able to serve my own dishes with my own dishes, I began looking for a ceramics studio where I can learn and found this place near my home by chance. I started my class a few months ago and so far I have enjoyed the learning experience and have been going back on a weekly basis.

Something I learned quite quickly was it’s much much harder than I thought, more so than cooking, soon after I sat behind the wheel and learn how to throw in my first class at the studio in Chaiwan. Before that and like almost everyone else, my previous knowledge of working a throwing wheels was limited to that famous scene in the movie Ghost, and man, it’s no longer romantic and sexy after realizing how messy and filthy it can be with dirt mud covering your fingers while you were trying to keep a steady hand to throw your piece into a perfectly round shape. Whilst in cooking you have some leeway in making some mistakes - sometimes you can make adjustments along the way to fix; in pottery making, you could have made 99 perfect steps and then one small mistake at the end could ruin your entire work completely. And there's also a certain extent of uncertainties out of your control which may lead to pleasant or unpleasant surprises.

But despite the challenges, I got to say, there's nothing more satisfying than seeing the pieces came out beautifully from the kiln, and being able to hold them, serve them, and put them to everyday use. It's probably going to take a long journey to pick up the skills and continuously refine until I got something more presentable, but I am loving this new hobby!

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