Plates and Chopping Boards | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

When we sit at the dining table, we hardly waste much time thinking of how tableware originated and evolved in time.  We might briefly admire the beauty of a plate or a particular decoration perhaps just  as ice breaker and small conversation. We might treat ourselves with the elegant newest collection of dish ware made by Alessi called “Dressed”, or some hand painted ceramic plates, or we might end up eating in any casual dinnerware with nonchalance. The important thing is to have food into a washable or throw away vessel and assign a plate to each person sitting at a dining table. It was not this way a few centuries ago. (Photo: marcel wanders alessi)

Think about how it was in the Middle Age when diners in noble courts and taverns alike shared bowls, glasses, chopping blocks and tin plates.  This meant that diners sharing tableware had to pay attention to each other and respect table ethics because they were facing each other while eating from the same plate.

Each person had a spoon to dip in a common soup bowl and in a common sauce bowl. Meat and solid food were cut in a serving dish placed in the center table from which each person took a piece and place it on the chopping block shared with another person. If the other person was a woman and supposedly not a master in the art of cutting, the man sharing the chopping block with her would cut a pieces and offer it to the woman.

Forks did not exist yet, they arrived on the Italian Florentine tables around the 1300. Women held each piece of solid food between two fingers and brought it to the mouth gently. Men stabbed solid food or meat with a knife and ate directly from the blade.

Napkins did not exist yet either. It was an accepted custom to clean oily hands on the tablecloth, but it was not acceptable to suck the fingers clean with the mouth. To avoid offending table decency, a piece of food which had been in the mouth first, could not be put on the shared chopping board, or shared thin plate, that was not acceptable.

Why I am talking about table customs in the Middle Age and what does it have to do with the way we eat today? It seems that every thing old at some point become new again. I was really surprised to see that some restaurants in Italy have taken this historical table custom and twisted to today’s novelty.

In a restaurant on the Amalfi cost in Italy, I observed some appetizers being served on a cold stone or some others on a pre-heated stones depending on the type of food. Some restaurants serve also the main entrée on hot stones and it becomes really spectacular. Food arrives at the table seared halfway, the rest of the cooking is completed at the table by the customers, the way they like it.
(Himalayan Sal Slab: surlatable.com)

This trend is spreading throughout the U.S. too. I have eaten at upscale restaurants in California where one time I enjoyed appetizers on a Himalayan salt plate, the next time I delighted myself with an Argentinean Seared Flank Stake on hot slate with chimichuri sauce and the next time again I tried a fried kale with parmesan churros. All three times it was an enjoyable experience in that cooking at the table with friends evolves in a pleasant conversation.

Just like in the Middle Age, in trendy restaurants of today food is brought to the table on a hot stone  with another plate to eat off of it, but today there is an array of flatware, glassware and tablecloths to help us being more comfortable or civilized at the dining table.

These stones are available at gourmet shops and they are affordable.

I shall be here to answer any question you might have on the “mise en place”, staging a table, or staging a dinner party. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.

She is the author of two Italian regional cuisine books available on this site in the Books section, on Amazon and through the publisher:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen


The Table Is A Lady | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

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In my Italian culture, the table has a masculine connotation when is used for various tasks: paying bills, writing personal notes, rest all the groceries that are waiting to be placed in cupboards and fridge. This is the case when the table is called “il tavolo”.
A curious thing happens when the table is dressed up for food, meaning for breakfast, lunch or dinner, suddenly it becomes a feminine genre and it is called “la tavola”.

This is my observation: In every part of the world, when a woman is invited to go out to a restaurant, she gets well dressed up and prepared for a few hours of fun. Is it for the respect of food, or for the person who invites her, I don’t know…? Perhaps it is only the anticipation of the simple pleasure of tasting food, smelling the aromas and flavors paired with good wines, while resolving life’s problem at the same time. I think that the answers to most questions in life are generally found around a dining table.

Ever since Roman times, food have been the special occasion to be invited to, breaking bread with people meant then, as much as it does today, to be trusted enough to be part of the host’s special circle. Even though the Romans ate half laying down on the “triclinium” a type of chase long, their low table in front of them was highly dressed in the fashion of the era and the guests had to appear in elegant attires. Think about the great holidays of the year and how much efforts women take to dress up the table. The purpose of that is to show off the food and enhance the flavor with the decorations on the dining table and all around it.

(Click on each photo to view it larger).

We eat with eyes first; a golden roasted Thanksgiving turkey would not look good if the dining table was not well dressed, right? For the holidays, I arrange tablescapes for my Clients and I teach others the secrets of a well balanced decorated table, just so the pleasure of being seated with nice people, eating and conversing can be prolonged well into the day. A decorated table also has the property of limiting calories, because it dictates a slow pace of eating, induces conversation, people diverge their attention on life matters and food becomes the way to a general pleasure and not the center of attraction.

On the contrary, when people eat away from the table, on their lap by the T.V., on the floor, on the sofa, they tend to eat more and until their favorite show is over, they have ingested an enormous amount of food, damaging themselves day after day.  Driving, eating and drinking is the worse, as the attention is somewhere else and not on the road. At night, before I retire into my sleeping quarter, I prepare “la tavola” for the next day breakfast: tablecloth, which changes according to my mood, a scented candle to be turned on in the morning, place settings composed of plates, cutlery, cloth napkins, a coffee cup turned upside down on its saucer and the book I am reading at that time. I want to ease into the morning with a calm and quiet beginning, treating myself to comfort and beauty, accompanied by the sound of classical music and the fresh food I will prepare on the spot. My  lunches are always sitting down for about an hour. I never work through lunch, or eat at my computer. Dinners are the delight of my every day, a relaxation time cooking familiar food and enjoying again a dressed up table for the evening.

I don’t eat at the Queen’s table everyday, but I want to be the Queen at my table each and every day. It’s the good life!

Please forward this article to anyone you think might be interested in reading it and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. Thank you.
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior and Fashion Designer, working in the USA and Europe. She combines well fashion and interior in any of her design work. She loves to remodel homes and loves to create the unusual.
Author of the book: ©Come Mia Nonna–A Return to Simplicity on
Amazon http://goo.gl/xUZfk0 and Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w
Author of the forthcoming book on the subject of colors: ©RED-A Voyage Into Colors.

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