FEATURE: Cook on Clay wants everyone to sit down and eat well

Posted in Culinary, Feature, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine editor

The smell of fresh tomatoes being cooked down for winter sauce was the main smell of the day.

Five Acre Farm tomatoes are cooked down for winter sauce in a Cook on Clay pot.

The tomatoes were culled from a harvest at Five Acre Farm and were being given the five-star treatment on the stove of Robbie Lobell and Maryon Attwood in one of their Cook on Clay large, flameware pots.

“Tomatoes like the clay better than metal because of the acid in them,” Lobell said.

Cooking down tomatoes from their neighbor’s farm in one of their own handcrafted pots reflects the slow food, slow money, sustainable living paradigm the artists want to promote with their business. The tomatoes cooking in that pot meant that two families were being sustained by the local economy; a farmer’s food in an artist’s pot.

But even beyond that is the simple idea of drawing folks out from under the glut of their busy lives and taking time to cook and eat together.

“Part of our mission is to bring people back to the table,” Attwood said.

To that end, Cook on Clay will donate 10 percent of its proceeds to the Gifts from the Heart foodbank in Coupeville through November.

“We want to help feed our community, as well as the people who can afford our pots,” Lobell added.

As serious members of the slow food and slow money movements, building a sustainable local economy is important to Attwood and Lobell, as is extending a helping hand to others and making sure everyone has the chance to sit down at a table together to share healthy, delicious food.

“November is harvest month; Thanksgiving,” Attwood said.

“Not everybody has access to that kind of abundance. When we encourage people to return to the table in a social context, we want to make sure that everybody has a seat at the table, whether you have a little money or a lot of money,” she said.

Lobell said that with the way the culture is now, fast-paced and dominated by a relentless information network that distracts people from taking time to connect, part of her purpose is to counteract that trend.

“It’s about bringing our friends and neighbors together to have conversations; for families to be able to check in with each other on a daily basis. Life is busier and faster, so part of our ideas stem from the desire and need for our culture to come back around food and the dinner table is a natural,” Lobell said.

The potters live and work in Coupeville and have been making their line of beautifully curved clay pots and platters for more than 10 years. They launched the Cook on Clay line in 2010 in order to bring these unique pots to more kitchens.

Artist Robbie Lobell stands in front of her kiln after unloading a series of Cook on Clay pots. (Photos by Patricia Duff)

Flameware means that the pots and platters can be used directly on a flame and can withstand extreme temperatures, going from refrigerator to hot oven without cracking.  Cook on Clay pottery is entirely designed and handmade in America and, although it is decidedly beautiful to look at, it is truly designed for everyday use. Lobell and Attwood say after their customers discover the pleasure of cooking with their pots they become lifelong devotees.

Sixty percent of their sales are from repeat customers or someone who was referred by a friend. One friend said that cooking in their pots has made her a better cook; makes her feel closer to the food. Cooks who use Cook on Clay pots have reported a preference for them compared to metal because of factors such as browning, the quality of even heat, retention of a food’s flavors and the ease of clean-up.

Lobell said she still cares about the beauty of what she makes and that the beauty of the thing can be its own connection to food, its own prompt to slow down and enjoy what one is eating or drinking.

The curve of a handle on a cup when she touches it, or the way the rim feels on her lip, or the sound the lid makes when put down to nest on one of her pots, are all a part of the intimacy to be experienced around food, Lobell said. It’s creating a memory around the best moments of nourishment, kind of like what one might remember of grandma making her best pies with a certain wooden rolling pin.

“The hope is that there is an intimacy that grows around the pots when we’re having the experience of cooking, eating from the gardens and the nearby farms,” she added.

A new idea that is taking shape with the Cook on Clay line is the offer of house parties that include food and wine tastings to which customers can invite their friends and try out the pots in real time with great food, wine and some face-to-face time with friends.

“We’re also taking our pots out of galleries and putting them in to places that have something to do with food or drink,” Lobell said.

“It’s been a growth for us toward the more culinary side of art. Although I care about the sculptural quality of the pots, I want to see them used in the kitchen rather than sitting on a pedestal in an art gallery.”

Now customers can find the Cook on Clay line at the Second Street Wine Shop in Langley, Bayleaf in Coupeville and at Comforts of Whidbey winery on the vintner tour. The Roaming Radish in Freeland will also carry holiday pies to be sold in the square Cook on Clay flameware dish which one can freeze and then give as a holiday gift.

“It’s all about us working with our community to support not just ourselves but other small businesses, as well,” Lobell said.

“We want people to support our local economy and all the great, small, sustainable businesses we have on the island.”

The Cook on Clay studio is on the Whidbey Art Trail. Stop by for a visit or visit the Cook on Clay website for more information about flameware, house parties or the artists.

At top, Cook on Clay pots and platters fresh out of the kiln at the artists’ Coupeville home studio. 

Patricia Duff is an award-winning journalist whose most recent kudos include several first, second and third place awards in the categories of Best Arts Story and Best Education Story in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association 2011 competition.
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