The Pleasures of Quiet Pots


‘I really hope that nothing I ever cook takes the attention away from any of Anne Mette’s work, but instead works with it, the two becoming one. Quiet food for a quiet pot.’ – Nigel Slater OBE (English food writer, journalist and broadcaster)

Anne Mette Hjortshøj
photo: Kasper Kristensen

Anne Mette Hjortshøj

My pots work for their living. When I say ‘my’ pots I of course mean those that live with me, in my kitchen (I think of myself only as a custodian; the pots will have another life after I’ve gone). My first thought on seeing any new pot, plate or dish is how it will fit into my life as a cook and eater. Yes, I have a few whose purpose is purely to sit in silence. Pots that enrich my life simply by being there. But the majority of the ceramics in my home are put to work. They have a job to do.

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Anne Mette Hjortshøj’s pots were chosen not only for the calm presence they bring to my table but for how they will look and feel with my food. I have long been interested in how food and ceramics can work together. The two elements gently flattering one another. I tend to choose pieces that are quiet in nature, whose shapes are simple and whose glazes are those of the landscape (Hell is an electric blue plate). The colours that work most comfortably with my food are those of rain-filled clouds, the rust of the raw clay, the ice blue of a Nordic sky on a winter’s afternoon.

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Although I prefer softer coloured pieces, moss greens, honey browns and greys, I do like a lightly decorated plate. Anne Mette’s simple stamps of leaves and seashell marks are charming. A single ear of wheat, a few petals (particularly where the glaze collects in them) are a joy. Her brown rectangular salt glaze bottle decorated with strings of smoked fish (2016) is a piece I have long coveted. That said, a highly decorated plate can sound the death knell to any food that lands on it.

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I must add that nothing good will come from overthinking the marriage between food and what you serve it on. The partnership is not something to contrive like an over-eager food stylist. The happiest marriages are often the most accidental or least considered. I get much pleasure from finding a bowl or plate on which my food will work, but it is not something I like to get too precious about. I simply want my food to look comfortable.

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Anne Mette’s bowls and dishes ask to be used. They don’t want their life to be spent on a shelf, or behind glass. Each bowl and dish seems to have been made to earn its place, to have a reason that goes beyond that of being a beautiful object. Her vessels, if I may call them that, encourage you to pick them up, to be held in the hand and to be of use. That is why they work so well for me.

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I laugh when I hear Anne Mette say “It’s just mud, it’s just clay”, because to me, as I cradle one of her pots in my hand, it is anything but. The moment I saw a snow-grey bowl, its glaze rough in parts as if touched by a layer of hoar frost, I wanted it. This was the container for a sleepy cauliflower soup or a sage green leek and potato stew. I have a deep caramel glazed bowl in which I often serve a vegetable korma or a creamy curry. The soft ochres cry out for spice, for cumin seeds and cardamom. In the same way I pounced on a deep, oval pot in the soft blues of the sky on the island of Bornholm where she works. I wanted to see it used to bake a damson or plum crumble, and I have done so many times.

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I often wonder if, when taking a bowl from the kiln, a potter ever considers what that bowl will hold. Whether it will end up sitting on a shelf or whether it will be home to something delicious for someone’s supper. I long for more of Anne Mette’s work: a honey coloured plate on which to put a sugared cardamom bun for tea, a teapot in which to make my favourite afternoon tipple, or a shallow, leaf-stamped oval dish for baked apples. But I must wait.

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I have never seen a piece of Anne Mette’s work that wouldn’t look good with food in it. “I like making quiet pots” she says in her Goldmark film as she taps the side of a pale green, deep porcelain baking dish. “There’s going to be food in here, and that will take a lot of the attention.” I really hope that nothing I ever cook takes the attention away from any of Anne Mette’s work, but instead works with it, the two becoming one. Quiet food for a quiet pot.

Nigel Slater OBE is an English food writer, journalist and broadcaster. He has written a column for The Observer Magazine for over a decade and is the principal writer for the Observer Food Monthly supplement. Prior to this, Slater was food writer for Marie Claire for five years.