The Shared Table

Food, pivotal to any family gathering, is on colour consultant Latika Khosla’s mind as she contemplates the forthcoming festivities.

 

Latika Khosla is on the board of the Color Marketing Group USA and the founder-organizer of Colors India. She is also the founder-director of Freedom Tree, a wholly-Indian, colour-led lifestyle brand with retail presence in Parel, part of Mumbai’s trendy mill district. Latika’s studio, Freedom Tree Design, undertakes colour consultancies and design assignments.

 

Good taste. Taste. To eat. One only has to look at our television programming to know of our obsession with food. Did we ever think it was entertaining to watch a kettle boil, or a soufflé rise? Against the advice of the adage, ‘a watched pot never boils’, we have now become voyeurs of gustation. If one is at a family gathering, the discussion, regardless of community, steers towards what we are going to eat next, even while the current course is being consumed.

Ethnocentric prints and comfort food take us into their warm embrace.

This really may not be an Indian phenomenon. Around the world, the dining table is central to most cultures. Its growing, sourcing, preparation and sharing is like a song; where the seasons set the rhythm, the kitchen and cooks, the melody; the festivals are the crescendo and the shared table is an invocation and a humble thanksgiving. Every day.

We all travel and one location blurs into the next in our hectic lives. Even if we do not travel, images inundate our waking lives. Come end of the year, a few reflections and ideas stay strong.

Like today’s modern family, which embraces more than close relatives, interior design, too, throws up unusual juxtapositions.

With our eyes on a phenomenally successful food programme, coming from Down Under, I remembered a talented young designer from the same country. A Shared Table is a concept by forecasting studio New Black Global Trends, based in Australia.  In an expressive installation, A Shared Table explores ideas of collaboration and connection, and the changes in how we interact professionally, socially and privately.

Genty Marshall, the concept creator, says, “The table is the silent witness to our conversations, the constant character in the theatre of our lives.  As we focus on the table, it reveals to us not only how we dine but also how we work, celebrate and love.”

United by the need to connect, a shared table lays out underlying desires that are shaping the way we live. With our own increasing mobility and flexibility, the notion of family changes around festive times. Similarly, adaptability and modularity aren’t new to design. What is new, however, is the need for personal experiences.

As Genty explains, “A Shared Table is enough to explore how communities and personal relationships are challenging old conventions. It’s a fresh cultural perspective in design, but the origins are of olden times. Our daily routines and the allocation of tasks are open for discussion as traditional roles of gender, familial hierarchy and cultural rituals are negotiated in these open and shared spaces. Urbanism gurus and interior architects are now rising to the challenge to meet the personal, societal and environmental demands of these new collectives. More importantly, the demand reflects a fundamental desire of the human being: a sense of place and welcomed embrace.”

Today the Shared Table could define our role in the family. We also like to share our thoughts and experiences at the table and discuss our futures there.

There is a new need to find more modern rituals that have a personal or familial resonance. A high-tea or a Sunday brunch with friends. Rituals that did not exist are made modern conveniences. “There is a sense of security that comes with personal ritual and personal place, from having your special things,” says the designer. A mug or plate we always use or which is marked as our own. A habit of always taking the same seat at the dining table at home, or a cafe or bar.

Like a modern family that is made up of a fusion and adherences of agglomerations, interior design is also throwing up unusual juxtapositions. Within India itself, we come across restaurants that do not have anything matched from one table setting to the next. This year, we at Freedom Tree have contributed mismatched plates and odd sets of glasses to a number of concept cafes.

Restaurants from the same chain, need not be splitting images of each other. There might be a motif that differs from one to the next, or an idea that sets context, in this case a mismatched chandelier.

Even within a chain of restaurants, one doesn’t need to look like the next. This is wonderful, because each has a motif or an idea that sets the context. A bistro opening in an old church has typical English eccentric overtures in the decor. Another place in Beijing uses an ethnic shibori design as an over-scaled wallpaper motif, while calling attention to the floor laid out in digital dot-matrix. The old and the  new live together, much as a grandma dotes on the little one in a family.

When there is comfort in shared things, there is also comfort in things that share a likeness. With our innate sense of order as human beings we look for continuity and a commonality in all things when they need to be placed together. So we look for families of dinnerware, or drink ware that match and are harmonious with the tableware. We look for marked differences that will make an interior setting unique: Whether it is a stunning table or an amazing graphic in the room.

Farm produce as food craft is epitomized in this dried lotus seed pod which has kimono fabric stuffed into the empty holes.

New concepts in food delight us. In Japan, I was taken to a special meal: traditional fare being served by farmers organized into a commune. A comfortable setting in the busiest part of Tokyo gave way to a garden-and-basement restaurant, where humble vegetables like brinjal, spinach and taro roots were served as robust farm fare. In a room plastered with farm mud, with lamps made out of wire mesh, were elegantly-clad women,  enjoying simple flavourful food served in crafted earthen dishes. For me, the detail was epitomized by a dried lotus seed pod that had kimono fabric stuffed into the empty holes.

With the party season upon us, I have chosen to write about food and A Shared Table as the core of a gathering. This could be a home or a restaurant outside. Many have always expressed that central to the home is the hearth, the kitchen from which all sustenance comes forth. Today, the shared table gives us more than that. Where we sit defines our role in the family. We also like to share our thoughts and experiences at the table and plan our future there.

At Proef, a food designer’s restaurant, people share platters of food.

Timeless values apply to a seat at a shared table. A shared space never dates. New conversation, changed foods, travel and tasting, and always friends… keep these gatherings ageless. Relationships with close ones endure, and new ones are forged with unexpected friends whom we embrace. I’ll end with a summation from Genty, “In looking at the art of living, the role of food is paramount. In contemporary gastronomy, the absolute authenticity of source, preparation and presentation is valued over stylized dining. In design, the same trend applies. The creative process, sourcing of materials, manufacturing practices and the afterlife of a product is paramount. Objects that we connect with are considered, crafted and speak to us of time  — time in conception, production and longevity.”

Some more images…