From Bernadaud to JL Coquet, Michelin-starred chef Paul Ainsworth is a man passionate about tableware. He’s also guest judge of the Tableware International Awards of Excellence 2022. Mairead Wilmot spoke with himâ€¦
Paul Ainsworth oozes passion. It resonates through the very core of his being. Along with his wife Emma, he has made food his business, from a Michelin-starred restaurant through to a guesthouse to a development kitchen, there is no corner of the industry he has left untouched.
And on the topic of tableware, he is astute too. The chef, guest judge for this yearâ€™s Tableware International Awards of Excellence 2022, knows his stuff.
Of course, Michelin-starred chefs tend to know their stuff but what is refreshing about Paul is that he sees table top as an extension of his work.
â€œTableware is as important as the food and drink in my restaurants,â€ he tells Tableware International. â€œThat is my personal belief.â€
Walking through the doors of Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, CaffÃ© Rojano, The Mariners or MahÃ© â€“ the approach to the dinnerware, the flatware, the glasses, is always the same â€“ they are treated as part of the Paul Ainsworth experience.
â€œFor me, itâ€™s about the entire experience â€“ every fine margin makes up the detail,â€ he says.
He uses the analogy of a â€œgreat G&Tâ€ â€“ the ice is as important as the gin you use and the glass you choose. What he is saying, in short, is that all parts of the puzzle are created equal and tableware is no exception.
â€œWe find the best canvasses for what we do,â€ he tells me. â€œItâ€™s everything.â€ In fact, he goes so far as to say there is not a single restaurant he respects that does not invest in the very best tableware.
Asked if he is hands-on when he comes to choose tabletop for his restaurants, he is emphatic. â€œYes, with everything,â€ adding that he and Emma, his wife and business partner, are to the fore of every part of their business, from the most miniscule details at Padstow Townhouse, their guesthouse, through to the minutiae at Paul Ainsworth at No. 6.
â€œWe bring the team with us on the journey too, they have to be involved, but we are hands-on with every single detail.â€
Speaking of journeys, he is open about â€œgoing on a journeyâ€ with his tableware. When No.6 first opened, they could only afford a budget range. It was basic, he says, not particularly inspiring. It was when they were able to invest in â€œthe beautiful stuffâ€ that everything changed.
â€œWe moved to Montgolfier and that was a game changer. When we invested in quality it made such a difference in the kitchen, there is a sense of pride when you are using really credible tableware.â€
One particular incident sticks out in his mind, he tells me. It was when he was working with Gordon Ramsey and a â€œÂ£25,000 order went in with Bernadaudâ€ â€“ that was a lightbulb moment for the young chef, â€œÂ£25,000 on plates, wow!â€. It was at that point he knew quality costs.
From his first order with Churchill â€œpure white with a basketweaveâ€, through an order with a local pottery; â€œI went down the stoneware route which really didnâ€™t suit what we do, I didnâ€™t like the way it agedâ€ through to today using Bernadaud and JL Coquet, Paul Ainsworth has been invested in every plate. His pub, The Mariners and Caffe Rojano, uses personalised plates supplied by G&G Goodfellows while Studio William provides the cutlery and glassware is by Zalto and Schott Zwiesel.
â€œOver the years it has always been a case of what we can afford but now we can invest in tableware.â€
Seeing a beautifully designed piece such as a Zalto glass in its natural environs is â€œmagicâ€ says Paul.
So, which is more important, looks or functionality? â€œItâ€™s both,â€ according to the chef. Some pieces might not be the most functional in a restaurant environment but if they â€œlook and feel fantasticâ€ Paul says he and his team try to live in unison with the pieces to make it work. If that means investing in special dishwashers, or making tweaks in how they handle the tableware, then so be it.
â€œThere are some occasions where the functionality just doesnâ€™t work but the visual wins out, so I guess if you were to ask me again, Iâ€™d say the visual is more important.â€
For a man as passionate about tableware as he is, the question has to be asked, would he ever design his own collection? The answer â€“ a resounding yes.
â€œThat would be the absolute dream for me, to work on my own brand would be incredible.â€