Meet the Makers

Cara Janelle’s Happy Accidents

“I grew up in a cornfield in Illinois, but was living in San Francisco when I decided I needed to travel to Europe,” the ceramicist Cara Janelle says, explaining how she ended up in Barcelona.

She adds, “I didn’t have a plan, only a three-month tourist visa and a desire to explore new places.”

That was five years ago.

cara janelle

Cara Janelle

On a lark, Cara had taken a “hand-building” clay class in SF before she boarded a plane for Spain to begin her adventures. Like so many first steps, this one led her on a journey to an entirely new life.

“I chose Barcelona to be my base because I wanted to finally make a real attempt to learn Spanish,” Cara explains via email. “It was here that I took a ceramic class to meet some new people and to practice my Spanish.

“I didn’t know I would end up creating a business from a ball of clay.”

Made of porcelain and stoneware, Cara’s bowls, plates, spoons, and other culinary errata are delicate and curious, biomorphic and loose, touched with deeply hued glazes that surprise the eye.cara janelle

Having sculpted more traditional art pieces in the past, Cara used the courage she took from her Spanish ceramics class to begin to explore kitchen ware.

Considering that both clay and food are transformed by heat, it seemed a natural match. She created a small sample of work and showed it on a table at a local neighborhood market in Barcelona.

In a 2016 interview with lamonomagazine.com, she described what ensued.

“This Argentinian chef and his partner came around and went crazy for my plates. The next week they were in my studio ordering nearly 100 pieces for a tasting menu they were preparing in Norway.

“They barely gave me enough time to finish the project, and ended up flying me to Norway to deliver the order directly to the restaurant. That was the moment I decided I should be working with chefs.”

Today, Cara not only sells her nesting bowls, ceramic spoons, and other clever wares, she also creates for such luminaries as chef Simon Davies at Chicago’s acclaimed Alinea restaurant, among others.

Her work is imperfect and effortlessly elegant, marked by small surface surprises in the clay and unusual colors in the finished pieces.

“My work is predominately hand built using slabs, coils, and pinch pot techniques,” Cara says. “I don’t generally throw on the wheel anymore, therefore my current work is full of intrinsic imperfections that lend themselves to organic often biomorphic forms.”

Some pieces look just like rocks until you pick them up and discover that the forms are hollow. Others resemble sliced crystals, dappled with stunning blue marks

All of her pieces possess a  grace and delicacy that is difficult to achieve working with stoneware — particularly if you’re building something that appears to be a rock. It’s just her touch.

“Before I started working with chefs and restaurants I was creating sculptural work for art galleries, inspired by anemones, coral, and sea urchins,” she says.

“These days I’m mixing glazes to find combinations that take me back to the crystal blue and rocky coastlines of the Balearic Islands,” she says, referring to a group of islands on Spain’s Eastern coast.

“The sea is still a novel and mysterious source of inspiration for me.”

Because her interpretations of tableware are so swift and imaginative, Cara admits that she sometimes has trouble knowing when a piece is finished.

“I try and keep continuity in most of the forms, but once in a while I get carried away and somehow a piece that I am working on has an unintended metamorphosis,” she told lamonomagazine.com.

“Sometimes I end up with a very happy accident.”

Keep up with Cara Janelle’s work and travels on Instagram.

Eat Good Food

Cooking in Poterie Digoin

Founded in 1875, Poterie Digoin originated as a family business in the northern Loire valley, quickly establishing itself as the heart of the French kitchen. Each piece of Digoin stoneware and earthenware is hand-shaped and glazed by artisans, bringing a bit of tradition into the modern home.

Food just tastes better baked in clay. Perhaps it is the even diffusion of heat that coddles the food and brings it to its full potential. Perhaps it’s the accumulation of flavors that build in a particular pot when it is used to cook the same dish time and time again. According to some writers, earthenware transfers gout de terroir, or a “taste of the earth.”

Here is a guide to some of our favorite stoneware pieces from Digoin, with tips from writer, cook, and teacher Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking.

Gratin

The word “gratin” literally means “scratch” or “scrape.” In French family-style farmhouse cooking, dishes were assembled at home in these earthenware vessels and carried to a communal wood-burning bread oven.

Spinach, chard, eggplant, zucchini, leeks, and potatoes are some of the centerpieces of these dishes. To add flavor and form a good top crust, herbs, oil, butter, cream, bread crumbs, and cheese are often added. Additional ingredients might include eggs, meat, poultry, salt cod, or anchovies.

On the sweet side, the depth of these glazed vessels is well-suited to baking fruit cobblers and crisps to highlight fruit at the peak of flavor.

Tian

More oval in shape and slightly shallower than gratins, tians are perfect vessels for showcasing ripe summer vegetables.

For a simple but satisfying dish, assemble layers of small heirloom tomatoes, sweet bulb onions, thin skinned eggplant, and fresh salty cheese such as ricotta or chévre for baking. Wolfert suggests preparing this tian in the morning and serving it no sooner than 6 hours after it has emerged from the oven, at room temperature, to allow flavors to meld.

Unglazed Roaster

Dating back to Roman times, this traditional unglazed terra cotta roaster, known as a “four crétois,” is one of the oldest methods of cooking. Ideal for baking bread, roasting chicken, preparing a stuffed breast of lamb or other tough cuts of meat, the high-domed lid allows air to circulate while keeping heat and steam in.

Prior to each use, soak the roaster in water until thoroughly saturated. When heated in the oven, the clay will first release steam, which keeps the food moist, and then, when all the moisture has evaporated, act as a dry roaster.

While unglazed roasters are easy to clean, sooner or later they will develop clogged pores. To remedy, simply combine ¼ cup distilled white vinegar with two quarts of water, pour into the pot, and let soak overnight. The next day, rinse well and use a natural brush to scour the insides of both the pot and the lid with baking soda and water if necessary. Drain and dry well before storing.

Unglazed Roasting Pot

This French earthenware roaster, known as a “Diable Phenix,” works like a stove-top oven to perfectly roast potatoes, beets, chestnuts, coffee beans, and more without adding water, fat, or oil.

To cook potatoes, place one or two layers of washed and thoroughly dried potatoes inside, add a few tablespoons sea salt, cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the clay turns quite hot. Raise the heat to medium and cook the potatoes for another 45 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally to ensure uniform cooking.

After cooking with the roasting pot, place on a wooden surface or folded kitchen towel to prevent cracking. Nothing cold should ever touch or be added to the hot pot. To clean, simply wipe out the interior with a dry towel.

Learn more about Manufacture de Digoin Stoneware