Meet the Makers

Mitsuko Siegrist’s Living Works of Art

Ceramicist Mitsuko Siegrist says that she aims to create “living works of art” that have a soul clearly palpable to the user. She is not speaking in metaphors.

“It comes from my childhood,” Mitsuko says. “I grew up in a small village near a famous Japanese pottery village and most of our stuff was handmade. It’s an every day practice. My mom and grandma made food for the family and every day they thought about how to serve the food. We even talked about it at the table, so it’s really natural for me to think of the maker.”

Mitsuko specifically creates work for the table, for desserts and tea, and for special moments when clarity accompanies the act of eating and drinking.

Mitsuko is mentored by the artist Richard Carter, whose Pope Valley studio is where she wood-fires her pieces. Richard and his studio created our line of proprietary dinnerware. Clearly, Richard has an eye for talent!

Mitsuko is an artist who creates work intended for everyday use which have a quality of thoughtfulness and intent that reach far beyond their mere use as a tea vessel or a platform from which to enjoy dessert.

In order to learn how to make a correct vessel for matcha tea, Mitsuko studied the Japanese tea ceremony, a lifelong practice that she draws upon for her craft. In Japan, she says, sweets for the ceremony are readily available in shops. Here, of course, they are not, so she taught herself how to make them. In Japan, plates for displaying the sweets are easy to find; living here, she learned to make them for herself.

In addition to being for sale through SHED, Mitsuko’s work is used in service at the highly acclaimed Single Thread Restaurant as well as at San Francisco’s Salt House and Berkeley’s Bartavelle Coffee.

“I basically try to make something that’s useful,” she explains. “I talk to the chef-owners and do it how they want it. I have more person-to-person contact and communication. Through my work I try to connect with the maker and the server and the chef and the customer.”

For Mitsuko, it comes back to family and hearth. She saw a circle of connection as a child that has stayed strong within her and understands its value even today.

“We had a garden and a farm and a rice field,” she remembers. “Everything was so connected. That’s how I grew up. And then the culture changed to quick and cheap and disposable. I want to keep doing what I believe and what I like through making ceramic art. When I’m making food vessels, I always think of the user.”

She gives a soft exhale.

“I think of the family in the kitchen; it really makes me happy.”

Eat Good Food

Donabe Cooking – Easy and Delicious

The donabe, a traditional Japanese clay pot, is one of our favorite cooking vessels. We’re clearly not alone. Archaeologists date these versatile cooking vessels to 10,000 years ago.

We source our donabes from the venerable Nagatani-en clayware house, founded in 1832 and the leading producer of Iga-yaki pottery. Each donabe takes two weeks to complete and is an artisanal piece of work unto itself. Sourced from an ancient lakebed that contains millions of tiny fossils, Iga’s clay is naturally porous with a rough surface that distributes air flow and can withstand high heat efficiently.

Here are just a few of our favorite donabes. To inspire, we also offer a Chicken Hot Pot recipe adapted from the book Donabe, (co-authored by our friends Naoko Takei Moore and chef Kyle Connaughton) to pair with it.

Hot Pot (Classic Iga-yaki Donabe)
This classic-style donabe has found a place at the modern table in the form of a communal one-pot meal, or nabemono (“things-in-a-pot”). Almost every household in Japan has at least one classic-style donabe used to cook a variety of dishes tabletop. The classic-style donabe is also ideal for stewing or braising.

Rice Cooker (Kamado-san)
The importance of a good rice cooker is impossible to overstate. The bottom of this hand-fired piece is almost twice as thick as a regular donabe to allow for greater heat retention and gentle cooking. Even after the heating element is turned off, heat retained from the clay kept continues to steam-cook the rice to its perfect fluffiness.

Iga-yaki Grill (Yaki Yaki San)
The grill body of this donabe is designed to work as a hearth, which helps to build heat slowly and prevents the grill from becoming too hot. The outer reservoir can be filled with water and act as a drip pan to collect excess fat, cooking ingredients to the desirable doneness with a minimal amount of smoke.

Smoker (Ibushi Gin)
Smoke seafood and meat to mushrooms and vegetables all at the same time with the Iga-made donabe smoker. The base and lid of the donabe become tightly sealed after pouring water around the rim, creating a steamy vessel that keeps smoke in and permeates the ingredients with flavor. Learn more about how to get started with the smoker.

Tagine-style (Fukkura-san)
“Fukkura” means “fluffy” in Japanese. This versatile donabe is suitable to use to stir-fry, steam-fry, roast, stew, or smoke food. Use in hot or cold preparations, with or without its lid, either directly on the skillet or with a grate. The lid can also be used as a serving bowl for both hot and cold food. Unlike other donabe, Fukkura-san doesn’t need to be seasoned before you start using it for the first time. Once rinsed and dried, it’s ready to cook!

 

Recipe: Chicken Hot Pot
Use the classic Iga-Yaki donabe with this dish. It’s an easy way to cook a delicious and healthy one pot meal, which you can make and serve right at the table, using whatever ingredients you might have on hand. This recipe is pretty familiar, like chicken soup!
Serves 4

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into large bite-sized pieces
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 cups chicken dashi
1 cup kombu dashi
¼ cup sake
2 ½ to 3 tbsp mirin
2 ½ to 3 tbsp soy sauce
½ small head Napa cabbage (about 10 ounces/ 300 g), cut into bite-size strips (separate the bottom and leafy parts)
2 negi (Japanese green onions), or 6 green onions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced on the diagonal
6 to 8 very small carrots, halved crosswise
8 ounces assorted mushrooms
1 (14 ounce) package medium-firm tofu, cut into 8 pieces
5 ounces mizuna (including stems), bottom ends trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
Yuzu-kosho, for serving

Season the chicken all over with the salt. Let the chicken marinate for 15 to 30 minutes.

To make the broth, combine the chicken dashi, kombu dashi, sake, mirin, and soy sauce in the donabe and add the bottom part of the Napa cabbage. Cover and set over medium-high heat.

As soon as the broth starts to boil, turn down the heat to simmer. Add the chicken and the rest of the ingredients except for the mizuna.

Cover again and bring back to a simmer. Simmer until everything is just cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mizuna and cook for 1 minute longer before turning off the heat.

Serve in individual bowls at the table with yuzu-kosho.