Potter Chris Harford doesn't get out for dinner much. He's too busy making plates for some of Canberra's best restaurants.
He's been supplying Sage restaurant with crockery since 2011 and when the Harrington group opened Akiba and Kokomos in 2014 and 2017 respectively, he was asked to supply those restaurants as well.
"I did a count a few years ago and it was well over 5000 pieces then," says Harford.
Harford's work will appear in a new exhibition The Chef and the Potter which is being held at the Watson Arts Centre to coincide with Good Food Month.
Opening on Thursday, March 5, the exhibition also features the work of Georgina Bryant's Linburn Handmade which can be found on the tables at Highroad, Cupping Room, Pilot and Bar Rochford; Joey Burns (Sawpit Studios, supplying Barrio, Grindhouse Canteen and Gundaroo's Cork St Cafe; Andres Caycedo of Bookplate and Pollen; Richilde Flavell of Girl Nomad Ceramics who provides work for Barrio, Kyo, Fox and Bow, Mocan and Green Grout and Grindhouse Canteen; and Annie Parnell who supplies Three Mills Bakery, Intra and Terra.
Six potters and 21 eateries are represented in the exhibition.
Harford, who also supplies Pilot, Aubergine, Midnight Hotel and The Knox, has been a potter for 40 years. His work is highly acclaimed and he teaches through Canberra Potters.
"I just wanted to make plates," he said. "I did some classes, bought a wheel, it just went from there."
Johnon MacDonald is the executive chef for Sage, Akiba and Kokomos and he works in close collaboration with Harford.
The plate usually begins with the idea of a dish which will go on it.
"I normally give Chris a call with a concept and idea and he comes back with a mock and then we keep going back and forwards til we get the shape right," MacDonald said.
"Then we start looking at colours, glazes, and Chris plays with different clays, different textures.
"It can be a lengthy process sometimes, others it's bang straight away.
"The biggest thing is trying to explain to Chris what I'm envisioning, trying to get him to see inside my brain looking for unique pieces."
Both remember a time when most restaurant food was served on a generic large white plate.
"Restaurants got to the point where there was so much good food out there, so many restaurants," Harford said.
"They needed an edge and the competition is so fierce, especially in Canberra."
Sage was one of the first restaurants in Canberra to start using handmade ceramics - perhaps quite fitting given its location in the Gorman House Arts Centre.
MacDonald said it was only a matter of progression that restaurants started looking at crockery and the like as part of the presentation.
"You're always looking for attention to detail in everything, the food, the decor, everything," he said.
"If you're spending that much time looking it's a natural progression to look at the plates as well and go okay how can I make this more appealing, more attractive, something that hasn't been done before."
MacDonald says he's forever looking at the bottom of plates to see who made them. His social media feed features as many design photographs as it does food.
Harford said he gets plenty of customers who have seen his vessels when they've been out dining and follow up with a phone call.
While form is important, the pair both agree that functionality is also key. It's important whether a vessel can be stacked, how heavy it is for servers to carry, how durable it is.
And if you're wondering, yes, everything is dishwasher safe.
Harford and MacDonald will give a floor talk at the Watson Arts Centre about their collaboration on Sunday, March 15, at 2pm.
- The Chef and the Potter runs from Thursday, March 5, to Sunday, March 29. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-4pm at Watson Arts Centre, 1 Aspinall St, Watson.