comscore Artist, Farmer, Chef | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Artist, Farmer, Chef

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
    Ceramist Daven Hee is unfazed by the 130 “experiments” he created, with input from chef Ed Kenney, for “3@the Table,” an artist-chef-farm collaboration. He’ll take just 12 pieces to the event, including a spouted bowl or two at left, which were yet to be fired last week. At right, a stack of tan dishes were the result of a failed test using MA‘O Farms soil in a glaze. Hee completed a set of sake cups, below, but is remaking them.
    Ceramic artist Daven Hee teamed with chef Ed Kenney and MA‘O Organic Farms for “3@the Table,” the first in a series of events that explore connections between art and food. MA‘O’s produce and soil are plated on Hee’s dishes. Hee experimented with incorporating sifted soil from the farm into his clay and glaze.

Hawaii ceramist Daven Hee is a model of boundless creativity. He’s well known in the art community for his large elegant pots and for the whimsical vehicles he dreams up: colorful choo-choos, cars and rockets, meticulously detailed to look as though they’ve been welded and bolted together rather than made of clay.

In Mid-Pacific Institute’s ceramics studio, where the 3-D art teacher keeps an array of his work, evidence of his versatile talent sits in old file cabinets and on metal shelves: stacks of cups and bowls with all manner of glazing; miniature mugs with teeny rabbits climbing all over them — to commemorate the Year of the Rabbit, he said; collections of unusual teapot sets, including a group of angular pots that fit together like a puzzle to form a circle.

What’s this guy doing in a food story?

Earlier this year, Hee was paired with MA‘O Organic Farms and chef Ed Kenney of town restaurant for "3@the Table," a fundraiser for Hawaii Potters’ Guild’s youth ceramics program at Palama Settlement.

The event brings together three teams, each with a potter, a chef and a farmer, for an interdisciplinary collaboration that mixes food with art.

Guests will enjoy pupu made by Prima Kailua (chef Kevin Lee is also participating) and sake in a handmade cup they will keep. Various earthenware will also be for sale. All the pieces are made by Hee and fellow Hawaii artists Clayton Amemiya and Steve Martin, as well as three California ceramists.

Amemiya, a longtime Big Island potter, teams with Hirabara Farms on Hawaii island and chef Peter Merriman. Martin partners with Lee of Prima and Otsuji Farm.

Though the common ground of art, cooking and farming may not be readily apparent, participants say it does exist.

"The culinary arts, ceramics and farming are all hands-on crafts," said Gary Maunakea-Forth, founder of MA‘O. "As chefs, artists and farmers, we like to think of ourselves as craftspeople — we get better as we go along."

When Hee was introduced to the concept, he was instantly interested.

"For me the creative process basically ends as soon as I take my work out of the kiln. To continue that process by interacting with the chef and farm is great," he said.

Each trio had their own style of collaboration. The process began for Hee’s team when the artist and chef met to discuss Hee’s dishware. By the time Kenney went to Mid-Pac, Hee had already completed a set of dishes, the beginning of his creative process.

It took Hee several versions before settling in on his final set.


A fundraiser to buy a ton of clay for a program at Palama Settlement:

>>•Where: the white box @ fishcake, 307-C Kamani St.
>>•When: 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 18; lecture by Wendy Tsuji at 6:30 p.m.
>>•Tickets: $30

"After talking with Ed, I’m making a set based on what he prefers, like wider, more shallow bowls. This set will be stoneware brushed with porcelain and a light, clear glaze coating," he said, about 130 pieces later. (The artists committed to making 12 dishes plus 30 sake cups.)

Hee’s firings included experiments in which the men literally tried to incorporate the farm into the dishware.

"I picked up the soil from MA‘O and asked Daven if he could use it in the clay," said Kenney. "To serve the food that grew from that soil on a platter that literally had that soil in it would have been great."

Hee went to Kenney’s restaurant to pick up the soil, took it back to the studio and began the testing, noting it’s rather pungent odor. Then he made a few test pieces and put them in the kiln.

As the heat rose, a terrible smell filled the studio, and Hee was forced to stop the firing.

The reason: "They gave me chicken poop!"

It turned out Hee’s bucket was swapped with one filled with fertilizer intended for the garden.

The mistake cost the partners precious time; Hee says such testing is usually done six months to a year before a show. Here they were dealing with a matter of weeks.

Nevertheless, when Hee finally got his hands on the soil, he tried to mix a "Lualualei glaze," referencing the site of MA‘O’s land. That batch didn’t work out, either.

But anyone who knows Hee — or Kenney — knows that wasn’t the end of the story.

"When I saw Daven’s kiln, I asked him, ‘What can we cook in that?’" recalled the chef.

Now a new plan has Kenney wrapping pork in banana leaves from MA‘O, which Hee will encase with clay and bake in the kiln. The duo plan to crack the clay at the event and serve the result.

No matter how the dishes or food turn out, "Ed’s team has already achieved the objective," said Wendy Tsuji, the woman behind "3@the Table."

Isle-born Tsuji, an architect in San Francisco for more than 20 years, specializes in designing restaurants inside and out.

Tsuji said that with the shift from the formality of white tablecloths to a more cas­ual setting prompted by the farm-to-table movement, restaurant dishware has also become more cas­ual. That inspired her to commission California potters to create dishes that matched the decor of the restaurants.

Tsuji brought the concept to Hawaii after dining at Merriman’s restaurant on Hawaii island and visiting Amemiya’s Hilo studio.

Tsuji says the concept is sustainability.

"Sourcing locally is so much more efficient. Restaurants don’t have to pay freight — and these dishes mostly come from abroad," she said. "Initially the costs will be a bit higher, but a handmade plate lasts twice as long as a mass-produced one, plus you’re supporting the community — and you have your own look as well.

"If restaurants are concerned about their lettuce or tomato being local, why get their dishes outside the U.S.?"

Tsuji said some California potters became full-time artists after her commissions.

Lee has already ordered from Martin handmade plates, bowls and platters that will supplement Prima’s dishware .

"It’s nice being able to see the work in progress, to see it go from an idea to the physical," Lee said.

The chef buys his local produce from Otsuji Farm, where Jonas Otsuji helps his father, Ed, run the family’s Hawaii Kai farm remotely from Utah, where he owns a sushi catering business.

Otsuji is an all-in-one package of farmer, chef and artist. He grew up farming, majored in art and made a career in the kitchen.

"My background in art helped me pro­gress quickly as a chef," he said. "The principles are the same: attention to detail, balance, composition, color and texture. It gave me a real edge.

"I think this collaboration is brilliant," he said of "3@the Table." "My theory is that at some point in the economy, we will run into something — fuel costs, maybe — that will require us to have to live off of what we grow. So we must build relations now. It will benefit everyone later."

Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up