A prawn bounces toward your mouth as if it wants nothing more than to be close to your tongue. A cup of soup wiggles anticipating your spoon. The scallop, the poor scallop, appears to tremble as your fork pierces its crust, a tacit reminder of its tiny sacrifice for your enjoyment and sustenance.
These are the visions of Living Plates, designed by Royal College of Art graduate Lina Saleh. They’re a collection of wiggly, wobbly plates and bowls that are molded from flexible silicone and traditional ceramics.
“I designed these plates to enhance the bond between the plate the diner and the food,” says Saleh. “They respond to touch, coming to life and thus changing our interaction with a plate. They add a new layer to what plateware can achieve, thus changing our perception of it, but also adding a new tool for a chef to express himself.”
Living Plates can jiggle like jello, or suddenly invert their shape. They can be folded in half, like a taco shell, or be pushed down only to bounce back up. And ideally, in the hands of the right chef, plating the right dish, these gimmicks can actually change the experience of a dish. “For example, the bouncing white plate tends to slow down the eating time as the weight of the food displaces easily [making it hard to poke or cut],” says Saleh. But the plates aren’t all meant to be difficult to eat with, just different to eat with. “To lessen the sense of instability, each plate’s wall thickness was changed to achieve the right type of movement and control whilst eating,” Saleh continues.
Fine dining is no stranger to silly and strange plating. Chicago restaurant Alinea, for instance, hired a blacksmith to create the tools to eat of some of its unique dishes, like bacon that hangs on a wire and amuse bouches that seem to float in midair with confidence, because they’re anchored by a heavy metal cork. Even the restaurant’s trademark finale of a dessert–a spontaneous pile of sweets and sauces that are literally poured all over your table by chefs–is made possible entirely by the plate: In that case, a table-sized, non-stick mat that makes cleanup a breeze.
But most of Alinea’s unique plates are custom (aka, expensive). Saleh’s project is not just provocative; it’s remarkably scalable. Silicone molds could produce these by the thousands, for pennies apiece. Meanwhile, the porcelain components could be made relatively inexpensively at scale, too. Given that Saleh would like to see her project affect how we all look at food, the project’s feasibility to scale beyond a single fancy dining room is key. By that, I imagine something like wiggly plating’s Fidget Spinner moment, the fondu pot of 2020.
“I hope that these plates can help inspire chefs and challenge their plating abilities, but also, enhance the experience of a diner by connecting him to an inanimate object that responds to his touch, giving them a sense of enjoyment and surprise,” says Saleh. “But mostly, [I want to] change our views on what the future of plate ware can be: no longer static, but moving and responding, connecting us to our food more.”