April 27, 2017

Honored to Collaborate with Steelite

“John Miles’s Steelite plates and my veggies were dating before we knew it.” (Farmer Lee Jones, when sharing how the Culinary Vegetable Institute relied upon these plates even before he met the President and CEO of Steelite)

When the Culinary Vegetable Institute holds an event, each of the dishes is plated on Steelite products, ones that Farmer Lee Jones calls the “sexiest plates on the planet.”

The Culinary Vegetable Institute began using Steelite, as mentioned above, even before Lee met John Miles. “But, when we finally met, it was truly the beginning of a beautiful partnership,” Lee shares. “He provides such high quality products and, besides that, he is an amazing man, very supportive. I consider him a mentor, one that coaches us along and freely shares advice, bringing value to both of us. We’re honored to be his only working showroom.”

Chef Plating Techniques

The executive chef of the Culinary Vegetable Institute, Jamie Simpson, “has an amazing repertoire of artistic dishes,” Lee says. “He uses the Steelite plates as his palette, bringing the dishes to life. The reality is that all great food starts with a great plate, exactly the right plate. The symbiotic relationship between the plate and the food it contains is very similar to wine and food pairings.”

To provide insight into how Jamie makes these pairings between culinary dishes and the Steelite plates they are served upon, we thought we’d share three examples.

UNCORKED Wine Dinner Steelite

“Basil fed snails served with basils,” Jamie says, “is an obvious full circle dish. This plate, by Rene Ozorio, is finished beneath the glaze with a ton of circles that draw the eye inward and outward. It’s also a small dish that was served first course with a glass of Spanish wine. The purpose of serving basils with this earthy mineral driven wine was to match the aromatic properties of the glass that accompanied it.” 

Vegetable Showcase Dinner Potato Steelite


“This is potato salad,” Jamie shares, “with textures of potato and variations on the usual suspects, including mustards, onions, eggs, celery, vinegar, paprika. The salad went linear and the waves of the rim by Narumi have a similar aesthetic from a guest’s perspective looking down. The plates almost seem to float, so these dimensions worked well with the concept.”

Beeswax Ice Cream Steelite

“This is Wabi Sabi,” Jamie says. “The plates have an amazing hand crafted feel to them, a comfortable and approachable feel. This dish is pumpkin, beeswax ice cream, and French toast with marigolds. The two subjects between the composition and plate share a very similar philosophy and aesthetic.”

A Look at Steelite

The company’s history can be traced back to 1875, when Thomas Wood Bennett started a hotel porcelain factory. Bennett was described as an “ambitious salesman” who invented the reinforced edge; he partnered with master potter William Dunn to form Dunn, Bennett. The company’s tableware was so tough and durable that it equipped the now-famous South Pole expedition that captivated the world in 1911.

The company continued to evolve as it was bought and sold – and, in 1991, Steelite International USA, Inc. and Steelite International Canada, Ltd. were formed from the initial company. By 2007, the company was so successful that it now employed more than 750 people. More company history is available here.

Fast forwarding to today, we talked to Steelite’s Vice President of New Business Development, Kimberly Matienzo, who provides behind-the-scenes insights into Steelite’s production. Key to the unique contemporary designs created by Steelite, she says, is head designer Andrew Klimecki. “He is extremely talented,” she says, “and he focuses on what is happening in the world today. Rather than monitoring trends, he’s already ahead of the curve. He travels around the world and derives his designs from today’s culture and what he perceives will be important in the future.” She says that she notes the same trait in Jamie Simpson, which is one important reason that the collaboration between Steelite and the Culinary Vegetable Institute works so incredibly well.

Elements of Plating

When a chef needs to decide what plate to use for a particular dish, there are numerous factors to consider, including:

  • Color
  • Design
  • Texture
  • Shape
  • Degree of Regularity

“When considering aesthetics,” Kimberly adds, “there are also different types of body compositions to consider, including chinaware, porcelain or bone china.  Some chefs like to have everything match well, while others enjoy mixing and matching for a unique look, incorporating other materials such as wood, metal and glass to the mix.

“You also have to consider color preference, decorations, embossments and glazes.  When it’s a reactive glaze, for example, you don’t know the exact finish until it comes out of the kiln. This is gives every piece a unique look and a hand-crafted artisanal appeal. And, regardless of the design, we need to balance beauty with form and function.”

Kimberly recalls when Steelite was providing plating products to chefs representing the Bocuse d’Or USA Team and one of them made a surprising choice. “He chose a ceramic pizza plate,” she says. “Rather than being dramatic, it was basic. Rather than being delicate, it was weighty. Before we sent it to him, we double-checked to make sure that’s really what he wanted. It was – and, when we saw his presentation, it was beautiful, the perfect frame to his dish.”

This example demonstrates, she says, “how plates come to life in a chef’s hand, often relying on leaps of logic and intuition. Talented chefs play with doing the expected alongside the unexpected, and with complementing and then contrasting.”

Shared Belief in Sustainable Business Practices

The Culinary Vegetable Institute and Steelite International both place a premium on sustainable business practices, with Steelite recycling 98 percent of manufacturing waste. This was the impetus to their winning the 2007 Green Apple Award. To put this accomplishment into perspective, this equals the recycling of 350 metric tons of clay body annually. You can find more information about the sustainability philosophy of the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s parent company, The Chef’s Garden, here.

If you’re ready to revel in the beauty of Steelite products, the next step is simple. Sign up to attend an event at the Culinary Vegetable Institute today!