An Irish Country Dinner with Ceramicist Peter Ting
"I hate to admit this, but I used to be a show-off cook," says Peter Ting. The Hong Kong–born, London-based ceramicist is whipping cream to fold with pureed blackberries for a simple English dessert called a fool; he'll serve it tonight at a dinner party at his friend Rachel Lamb's Irish country house. Ting works with storied British tableware companies like Asprey and Royal Crown Derby, but among his friends he's known as much for his home cooking as his designs. He'll tap into all his talents for tonight's dinner.
© John Kernick
Ting is serious about cooking: Fourteen years ago, at the age of 36, he left what many would consider a dream job designing for porcelain manufacturer Thomas Goode to consider a career in food. He enrolled in a culinary program at a college in Cheshire, England, but after a year of studying classic French technique, he changed his mind. "Cooking in a restaurant is hard work," he says, "and I found myself gravitating toward making things pretty on the plate."
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But the experience, he says, was not a waste. As Ting pulls out an assortment of tableware from a 19th-century cupboard in the dining room (which he romantically refers to as "the ballroom"), he explains that cooking has been one of the major influences on his designs: "As someone who cooks, I am very aware of utility. A plate or bowl has to be beautiful whether empty or full." When planning a dinner party, Ting often thinks about the table setting as he plans the menu. For tonight, he's chosen plates from his new "Hachi" collection for Royal Crown Derby. Like many of his pieces, the tableware melds British ceramic traditions with Chinese influences. The pattern—thick cobalt-blue circles filled with Asian-inspired florals—"has enough white space so the pattern doesn't distract from the food, and enough color to make the food pop," Ting says.
© John Kernick
Over the years, Ting has learned to be more relaxed in the kitchen. "After culinary school, I made fussy food," he says. "Cooking became stressful." Ting credits his partner, artist and curator Brian Kennedy, for teaching him to aim for simplicity. "Brian would throw a party and have starters in the fridge, stew on the stove and cheese for dessert," Ting says. "It made me realize that I don't have to struggle and make my own bread from scratch every time."
Tonight, Ting is serving a velvety zucchini-and-fennel soup inspired by a vichyssoise he learned to make in cooking school. For his Hainan chicken with rice, a favorite childhood dish, he thinly slices meat poached with scallion and ginger and sets out two bright, simple dipping sauces. All he has left to do before the guests arrive is change clothes. "We even have time for tea," he says. Now that he can throw relaxing dinner parties like these, Ting wonders, why would he want to open a restaurant?