Useful and Beautiful: Handmade Gifts for the Home Chef
This holiday season, consider purchasing gifts for the home chef that support full-time artists on the Central Coast and heed nineteenth century writer and artist William Morris’ 1880 counsel: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Before becoming a full-time ceramic artist thirteen years ago, Heidi Petersen (HeidiPetersenCeramics.com) worked in agriculture. Heidi came to the Central Coast for a master’s degree at Cal Poly and moved to Santa Margarita, where she’s lived for twenty- four years. She began studying ceramics at Cuesta on a whim: “I love the color of the clay. It’s not that di erent from agriculture because you get dirty all the time. And you’re with dirt, making things out of the clay, which is from the soil.”
Her aesthetic, Heidi says, is“bare clay showing. Even if glazed over the lip, I leave the clay showing. I work with dark clays, so brown and red.” Her ceramics have gained notoriety on the Central Coast; especially popular are her “useful cups,” utilitarian bowls small enough to t in the palm of your hand, glazed in bright colors, and perfect for holding spices and snacks in the kitchen, or jewelry and trinkets around the house.
Heidi’s work is sold at local wineries and a few shops, like Appendage and Bough (AppendageAndBough.com) in SLO. She makes dishware for restaurants, like e Grill at the Cass House, Niner, Fish Gaucho, and Blue Heron. But for now, her focus is on Table, her new studio in Atascadero, where she and four other artists sell custom tableware. People like to buy ne art, she re ects, “But why don’t you have beautiful things in your life every day, like at your tabletop where you sit frequently?”
To buy Heidi’s ceramics and other useful, beautiful items for the kitchen, visit Table at 5940 Entrada Avenue in Atascadero, or order from her website, HeidiPetersenCeramics.com.
For eleven years, Don Carlos Andrade of California Custom Knives (CaliforniaCustomKnives.com) has been hand-forging culinary knives, and specializing in chef knives. Only a dozen or so people in the US make chef knives full-time by hand, and of those, Don is the only one located on the Central Coast.
Prior to bladesmithing, Don was a stone sculptor and art teacher. He also cooked at restaurants in his hometown of Los Angeles and trained as a chef at culinary school. Unsatisfied with the restaurant world, he says, “I started studying Ayurvedic tradition. I had a real interest in the energy of food, how the mind and body work together. After eighteen years of making sculpture, I wanted to make something that’s a totally different part of people’s lives, that becomes a part of your health and wellbeing. That’s the reason I make knives: to get people excited to cook at home, to eat more of your meals at home.” He sees his bladesmithing as a healing art, and part of his Buddhist spiritual practice: “All my blades get a prayer and I sage them before I harden the blades. The prayer is around health, wellbeing, and contentment, and that the food the knife creates is healthy and sustains people.”
The average knife takes Don 30 hours to make. He uses carbon steel and traditional Western edge geometry. The result, he says, is heirloom- quality: “The idea is you can pass it down to your kids, and they can pass it down to their grandkids. If you take care of an excellently- made handmade knife, it’ll last a generation or two, easily.”
Central Coast native Jonathan Wilson, of JAW Leather Goods (JAWLeatherGoods.com), started making leather wallets and bags eight years ago; within two years, he was supporting himself full-time as a maker. Knife rolls weren’t something he initially considered making until a local chef asked Jonathan to design one for him. The knife rolls took off, with numerous chefs in the area and thousands around the country now carrying Jonathan’s work.
Jonathan also made the dapper leather service aprons at the new SLO Brew restaurant downtown: “Tom Fundaro, who’s the executive chef there, had a knife roll of mine from years ago. He approached me with his idea for the aprons.” Jonathan takes custom orders for aprons, knife rolls, bags, and wallets. Though he sells mostly through his website, he has an assortment of products for local customers to browse in his SLO studio.
There are no tanneries in California, so the leather Jonathan uses is from three different tanneries in Pennsylvania, Chicago, and Maine. “You can’t replicate with man-made materials the way leather breaks in and wears,” he says, when asked about the quality behind his craft. “There’s something about [leather] that’s kind of magic.”
In addition to leatherwork, Jonathan makes prints, paintings, and drawings. He is currently expanding a line of hand-printed women’s bags. Jonathan’s leather products are available for purchase at JAWLeatherGoods.com, or by making an appointment to visit his studio.