Singaporean Ceramicists Loh Lik Kian and Debbie Ng’s Tableware Serves as Canvases For a Chef’s Plating
When the food at a fine dining restaurant is described as art on a plate—most likely, the plate is art in itself, as in recent years, chefs have taken to bespoke tableware as the vessels for their gourmet creations. Chef André Chiang, for one, handcrafted ceramic ornaments for his now-defunct Restaurant André in Singapore, and he turned to the professionals such as husband-and-wife ceramicists Loh Lik Kian and Debbie Ng when it came to tableware.
“Our tableware serves as canvases for the chef’s plating, much like the blank canvases for the artist to paint on,” enthuses Loh, whose interest in ceramics began when he chanced upon a unique Japanese teapot more than two decades ago. “I was mesmerised by its ‘natural beauty’—wood-fired with just the raw clay body, with a glaze pattern reminiscent of a string of fired straw, and an imperfect handle.”
He ended up doing a full-time diploma in ceramics at the Lasalle College of the Arts, under artist Ahmad Abu Bakar, while Ng picked up ceramic hand-building techniques. The duo also learnt valuable skills and knowledge from the veterans at Sam Mui Kwang Pottery. Their works sold in galleries and requests for private commissions started coming in. They bought their first kiln and set up their studio practice at home, where they continue to work from till today.
Before long, restaurants came knocking and the opportunities for collaborations grew through word of mouth. Since then, the couple has worked with numerous chefs of Michelin-starred and fine dining restaurants, including Julien Royer of Odette and Carlos Montobbio of Esquina, and the new Rebel Rebel wine bar, just to name a few.
While they both have the ability and expertise to accomplish the whole ceramic-making process, they have somehow ended up specialising in certain areas. For example, Loh specialises in wheel throwing and airbrushing glazes, while Ng is proficient at hand-building and dipping and brushing glazes. “This specialisation means that we are much more efficient as we complement each other to complete the whole process,” Ng explains.
Loh quips that even their lecturers at the Staffordshire University, where the duo completed a postgraduate ceramics programme in 2019, had a hard time keeping the creative partners apart. After gaining almost 20 years of experience, the couple decided that it was time to acquire new skills and knowledge so they based themselves in Stoke-on-Trent, the heart of ceramics in the UK, to learn the industrial methods for small-scale and mass ceramics manufacturing such as casting and using plaster, with modern technologies such as 3D printing and laser-cutting and etching.
It was during this time that they developed the fins design of the If (insulation fins/interlocking function) collection, which is inspired by cooling fins and heat sinks, to offer insulation to vessels. They even collaborated on the Adagio coffee pot set, which utilises an interlocking fins system, to enable the user to securely carry a heated cup on the pot. And this despite the naysayers that the design would be impossible to execute.
“The ceramic creative process is a marriage between art and science: the knowledge of the materials, for example the use of different clay with glazes for a technical fit, and also the skills to mould and shape the clay to the intended design. But undeniably, one must have the resilience to try, to explore, and to think out of the box in solving problems without giving up easily,” shares Loh.
While they adhere to a client’s vision to a certain extent, there are projects where they let the material do its own magic. “The beauty of handmade or bespoke ceramics lies in its unpredictability and surprises. We find that the freedom to explore possibilities and ideas is in itself very fulfilling. Most seasoned ceramicists will agree that we work ‘with’ clay as the material itself has its own character and ‘life,’” says Ng.
Both Loh and Ng have also been helping to keep the craft of ceramic-making alive. For many years now, they have actively taught ceramics in schools and institutions in Singapore, and also conducted dragon kiln tours.
“We hope that one day we will have a regional ceramics centre right here on our island.”
- PhotographyDarren Gabriel Leow
- Art DirectionJana Tan
- HairBenedict Choo, using Clé de Peau Beauté
- Make-UpBenedict Choo, using Clé de Peau Beauté
- GroomingBenedict Choo, using Clé de Peau Beauté