When we sit at the dining table, we hardly waste much time thinking of how tableware originated and evolved in time. We might briefly admire the beauty of a plate or a particular decoration perhaps just as ice breaker and small conversation. We might treat ourselves with the elegant newest collection of dishware made by Alessi called “Dressed”, or some hand painted ceramic plates, or we might end up eating in any casual dinnerware with nonchalance. The important thing is to have food into a washable or throw away vessel and assign a plate to each person sitting at a dining table. But it was not always this way a few centuries ago.
Think about how it was in the Middle Age when diners in noble courts and taverns alike shared bowls, glasses, chopping blocks and tin plates. This meant that diners sharing tableware had to pay attention to each other and respect table ethics because they were facing each other while eating from the same plate.
Each person had a spoon to dip in a common soup bowl and in a common sauce bowl. Meat and solid food were cut in a serving dish placed in the center table from which each person took a piece and place it on the chopping block shared with another person. If the other person was a woman and supposedly not a master in the art of cutting, the man sharing the chopping block with her would cut a pieces and offer it to the woman.
Forks did not exist yet, they arrived on the Italian Florentine tables around the 1300. Women held each piece of solid food between two fingers and brought it to the mouth gently. Men stabbed solid food or meat with a knife and ate directly from the blade.
Napkins did not exist yet either. It was an accepted custom to clean oily hands on the tablecloth, but it was not acceptable to lick the fingers clean with the mouth. To avoid offending table decency, a piece of food which had been in the mouth first, could not be put on the shared chopping board, or shared thin plate, that was not acceptable.
Why I am talking about table customs in the Middle Age and what does it have to do with the way we eat today? It seems that every thing old at some point become new again. I was really surprised to see that some restaurants in Italy have taken this historical table custom and twisted to today’s novelty.
In a restaurant on the Amalfi cost in Italy, I observed some appetizers being served on a cold stone and some others on a pre-heated stones depending on the type of food. Some restaurants serve also the main entrée on hot stones and it becomes really spectacular. Food arrives at the table seared halfway, the rest of the cooking is completed at the table by the customers, the way they like it.
This trend is spreading throughout the U.S. too. I have eaten at upscale restaurants in California where one time I enjoyed appetizers on a Himalayan salt plate, the next time I delighted myself with an Argentinean Seared Flank Stake on hot slate with chimichuri sauce and the next time again I tried a fried kale with parmesan churros. All three times it was an enjoyable experience in that cooking at the table with friends evolves in a pleasant conversation.
Just like in the Middle Age, in trendy restaurants of today, food is brought to the table on a hot stone with another plate to eat off of it, but today there is an array of flatware, glassware and tablecloths to help us being more comfortable or civilized at the dining table.
These stones are available at gourmet shops and they are affordable.
I shall be here to answer any question you might have on the “mise en place”, staging a table, or staging a dinner party. Ciao,
Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.
She is the author of two Italian regional cuisine books available on this site in the Books section, on Amazon and through the publisher: