Have you ever thought about the plate underneath all that decadent
food at a five-star restaurant? Well, maybe you should. Acclaimed restaurants like
Eleven Madison Park and Lilia are known for serving some of the most innovative food in the world. And the plates they use are no different. Jono Pandolfi USA is a
company that specializes in these plates, or handmade ceramics. Since its opening in 2004,
it has designed dinnerware for some of the most respected chefs in the hospitality industry. Nick Pandolfi: We are
really special because our stuff is handmade. We have a team of 13 people in New Jersey that are making these
pieces every single day. But we make our dinnerware specifically with restaurants in mind. So they’re meant to stand up to really high-volume kitchens,
commercial dishwashers. They’re super durable, and
they’ll last a lifetime, but they still have that
handmade feel to them. Narrator: We ventured out
to Union City, New Jersey, to get an inside look at
how dinnerware is made for five-star restaurants. Jono Pandolfi: The core of what
we do, and what we do well, and what we will always do well, is serving the needs of a
chef and and a restaurateur in a way that other companies aren’t. Because we’re here, we’re
making it, we’re designing it. And we’re listening to what
they need and responding. Narrator: Jono Pandolfi now has 55 shapes and 1,000 molds in production, along with different
types of clay and glazes. To create their handmade
ceramic dinnerware, artisans first run clay
through a pug mill, which removes air from the
clay and shapes it into logs. Jono Pandolfi’s team
goes through 1,500 pounds of clay a week. That’s 300 pounds a day. And to put it simply, 1 1/2 grand pianos. The clay is then run through
a slab roller to form a sheet. An artisan smooths out the sheet and cuts a disk of clay
that corresponds to the size of the mold of the dinnerware being made. Now, time for jiggering. Here is where the clay begins
to look like a dinner plate. In this case, a 10-inch
mold is put onto the wheel, followed by a disk of clay. The person at work uses a foot pedal to begin turning the wheel. As it spins, they bring down
the jigger arm connected to a blade to cut away
all the excess clay. Jono Pandolfi creates all
their blades in studio. Once all the excess clay is cut away, the face of the plate is
smoothed down with a damp sponge. Artisans can apply extra
pressure with the sponge to create a circular design. The rim is then cut off,
and the plate is sent to the racks to dry for
about one to two hours. Once the clay is dried, it
is taken out of the mold and the excess rim is trimmed. The piece is placed on
a rack to dry overnight. The morning after, the piece is fired to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit
in an electric bisque for a day and a half. Jono: This is Mama, this
is the first kiln I got. It all started here. Narrator: The bisque
fire is heated up slowly to drain the water from the clay. Jono: Once it comes out of the bisque, it’s still porous. But it’s hardened, so you can handle it, you can stack it up. This is ready to glaze, so the next step is spraying on the glaze. Narrator: Jono Pandolfi’s team glazes about 300 to 400 pieces a day. After the pieces are
glazed, they are ready for a second fire in the kiln. This time, the pieces will bake at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Jono: Cappuccinos, that’s it. Got it, done, cap done. We could have ware from five or even 10 different restaurants go into that kiln every night. So, turnaround time
being epically important. We fire the kiln every day, we load it up by the end of the day, open it up first thing in the morning, everything’s ready to ship. It really is a privilege
to come in here every day and work with a group of people who are passionate about ceramics. Nick: We feel really fortunate
that we can actually have working ceramics jobs in New York City, which are really rare. And I think our team is,
you know, really happy that they’re able to do what they love. Narrator: With their
small but passionate team, Jono Pandolfi manages
to get 250 to 400 pieces out the door every day, ready for chefs all over New York City
and across the country. And once the dinnerware has
reached its final destination, restaurant chefs are
no longer the only ones who set eyes on these
carefully made ceramics. Jono: We have a name for them. Plate flippers. Richard Tong: My wife and I,
our favorite burger restaurant is called Alameda up in Greenpoint. And one night I was just
looking at the plateware that was on the table and
happened to fall in love with it, and so I just flipped over the plate and caught the name of who makes it. And it turned out to be Jono Pandolfi, so decided once I saw that
there was a pop-up shop I had to come by. Jono: That’s one of the biggest
compliments I could have, as a person who makes things, is for someone to be
eating at a restaurant to flip over a plate, or to see my plate, and think that it’s interesting enough to wanna know who made it. And then to even seek us out online, and then potentially buy
our work for their home. Nick: They want something special, they want something unique, and the plates that
they eat their food off is a great way for chefs to kind of differentiate themselves. Narrator: So next time you’re dining out at your favorite luxurious restaurant, check out that ceramic canvas
underneath all that food. Who knows? The dinnerware might be local. It might be handmade. And it might be Jono Pandolfi.