The collaborative spirit at Rockwell Group extends beyond the walls of the office. It’s rare for one of our projects not to include the beautiful work and craftsmanship of independent designers, makers, and artists. From time to time we’ll be introducing these folks in this space: finding out about their process, inspirations, and what it was like to collaborate with Rockwell Group.
For Chefs Club by Food & Wine, a Manhattan restaurant showcasing a rotating roster of chefs in a theatrical setting, Rockwell Group asked ceramics designer Jono Pandolfi to create the dinnerware.
RG: Tell us about the process of developing the pieces for Chefs Club: What did that collaboration look like? What were the discussions about how the pieces should look?
JP: There were a lot of revisions and exploration of clay bodies and glazes. Mainly I was working with Yulia [Frumkin, Associate at Rockwell Group], which was a complete pleasure. To achieve what we did for the restaurant, it takes a lot of planning and design. But in the end you hope that it looks like it was easy.
The main collaborators were Chef Didier Elena, Dana Cowin [Editor in Chief, Food & Wine], and Louise Vongerichten. Together we explored what the possibilities were, narrowed down an aesthetic, and then set out to define the function that each piece would fulfill. Early on in the process, Dana asked me what I was particularly excited about at the time and it happened to be a new combination of clay body and glaze. They loved it and from there we worked toward a stripped down line of coupe shapes, each with its own unique detail: subtle stuff, like a slightly recessed rim on the entree bowls, three lines at the edge of each dinner plate, or the raised line at the rim of each salad plate...Every bread plate at Chefs Club has two randomly spaced lines on it, so they are all one of a kind. They are all done by hand.
What were some of the influences or the ways you wanted them to look and feel?
First off, minimal. Light feeling, but stoneware; handmade, yet chic. From there, you let the process define the aesthetic, and that's kind of my formula. I design things so that they function great, look great, and are also easy to produce. We made over 600 salad plates for the restaurant by hand. The production process informs the aesthetic. Every added detail adds work. Minimal = success.
Was this the first time you had collaborated with an architect/architecture firm?
Actually, yes, and it was a completely exciting call to get. It was always something that I wanted to be able to say, that I worked with Rockwell Group. To me that's total rockstar stuff. I actually wish I got more calls from architecture and design firms, because often the design of a restaurant is so thought-out, but the plates are a last-minute, separate decision, made by the chef, not the design team. This was a really well-incorporated project, and I learned a ton.
You have had a very slow and steady professional rise, and we're wondering what it’s like to transition from being the sole influencer of your work and what you produce to creating pieces for companies with parameters, requests, and their own ideas?
Working with clients like mine, it not only enables me to create the work that I want to create and see it used in some amazing places, but it also provides me with an endless stream of collaborative energy. The thing I love about my job is that it challenges me in so many ways: solving the problems of my clients, creating beautiful new tableware, and also keeping my business running efficiently. We are currently putting out around 2,000 pieces a month, so keeping all the equipment and production running constantly—it works all parts of my creative mind. I never set out to go into dinnerware, but once I tumbled into it, it was a great fit.
Chefs Club Photography Credits: Vincent Picone & Chefs Club/Aaron Arizpe