I had the most interesting dinner this weekend.
It was a unique concept: 6 ceramic artists (potters) came together to showcase their work through a dining experience hosted by Aleth Ocampo in her Magallanes private dining space.
Aleth, known for her classic French cooking, served all the dishes for this event in pottery by (pictured above) Jon Pettyjohn, Tessy Pettyjohn, Joey de Castro, Pablo Capati III, Johann Gohoc and herself. (What some don’t know is that Aleth is herself now quite the distinguished potter! You can find works at Aphro Living.)
I had the privilege – randomly – of sitting across Jon Pettyjohn and wife Tessy, the masters of this art. And it was a real privilege – and pleasure – because I learned so much!
“What is terracotta?” I randomly asked those seated beside me, all of whom I had met for the first time tonight, all of whom were potters. “It’s a kind of clay. But there are many kinds of clays,” John explained.
“It’s the dirtiest of the clays,” Joey de Castro, another ceramic artist, explained.
I asked about terracotta because I had just met another artist in the kitchen, Joe Geraldo, who was just there to hang out. He explained that he works more with sculptures (rather than functional art) but uses terracotta.
“This reminds me,” I told Jon, “of this article I just read in the Economist about a museum curator in a small province in China. There were farmers nearby who found pieces of these great terracotta sculptures of soldiers and since they were of no value to the farmers they were thinking of selling them but just before selling, they happened to ask the museum curator about them. When the curator saw them, he immediately knew their value, paid them for it, pieced them together himself and completed a soldier. Then the government got wind of it and they started digging for more and now there are these large museums filled with these terracotta …”
“The Terracotta Warriors,” Jon said. “Yes, we were just there. In China. It’s amazing. You should see it!”
My jaw dropped. I remember making a mental note to visit this place while reading this obit feature in The Economist, but I never thought I would have a conversation with someone who had actually been to the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors! I mean, it sounded so remote. But Jon and Tessy had been there!
(Just to be faithful to the story of the Terracotta Warriors discoverer, the man is Zhao Kangmin. He was the curator of the Lintong District Museum in Shaanxi province in northwest China. The farmers at first would find smaller terracotta objects like arrowheads and body parts. Then they found a life-sized head, which freaked them out LOL. For a while they took it for an earth-god. Zhao told them that these were from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the first imperial dynasty of a united China, and told the farmers to stop digging. He got what they found, epoxied the parts together and made himself proud when he was able to piece together two warriors. Later, after hearing of these important finds, the government got involved and proper excavation to dig for these warriors took place. With the government’s involvement, they unearthed – hold your breath – around 8,000 infantrymen, officers and archers, 520 horsemen, 330 chariots and real, sharp weapons — all terracotta! Can you believe it? All thanks to the commitment to history and the foresight of Zhao Kangmin.)
Jon, though, enlightened me a bit more about this story. Apparently, at that time – 200 years Before Christ! – the emperors, who believed in life after death, would make their servants commit suicide when they died (because who wants to do their own laundry in the afterlife, right?). But the first Emperor of Qin refused to do this; instead, he had these terracotta warriors made. “Now that is one compassionate leader!” I laughed. “Yes,” Jon said, “He saved a lot of lives!”
From there our conversation moved on to china. I was trying to understand the difference between clay and china. Apparently china is the most pristine kind of clay and back in the day was only found in China, from a province so blessed that their clay is white. And they created machines that would produce heat so intense that they were able to make porcelain. Since this was only available in China … hence it was called china!
Then I went on to inquire from the potters … so what is bone china? (I was just full of questions and luckily, Jon had all the answers!)
Bone china is England’s response to China’s china. After all, they need fancy ware for their tea! They wanted to replicate china. But they couldn’t … because, duh, nature. They just were not blessed with that kind of clay in the United Kingdom. But the brilliant Brits found a way. They discovered that if you mix bone with certain kinds of clay, you can create something that resembles the color of china. Hence, bone china. It is literally from bones! Animal bones, ok? Not human bones. Although, there may have been a time when they imported bones and some human bones were mixed in! (OMG!) ”
“I don’t know if I remember this right but I was in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona a couple of years ago and I remember seeing that there was a section on his pottery,” I said.
“Yes!” Jon confirmed. So yay I remembered it right – Picasso was also a potter. With very humorous creations, I might add!
Jon in fact lived in Barcelona in the ’70s. He moved there when he was 22 (he is half Filipino, by the way – mom’s a Lorenzo – though his dad’s surname is very American, Pettyjohn). His cousin told him, as a tourist, to check out the Barrio Gotico, the gothic district. While walking around, he discovered an art school with students doing pottery. He had a eureka moment where he found his calling to become a potter. Got really into it. Stayed in Barcelona for two years, studying the craft. Came back to the Philippines to pursue his passion further; even went to the Bureau of Mines to find out where to find clay (he ended up going all the way to Albay). And now Pettyjohn is a Philippine pottery institution, one of the pioneers and still leading the industry after 40+ years. (He met his wife Tessy, by the way, who was also a potter, at a gallery. She was also already a ceramic artist by that time. Married in 1978! Totally made for each other!)
Aleth’s food was a hit, of course. Her homemade breads were sliced and served on Tessy Pettyjohn’s long ribbed tray. Her pate was served on bowls made by her as well. And I drank my hot water from an Aleth Ocampo mug. Sozzzhal!
The excellent mushroom soup using four kinds of mushroom, punctuated with truffle sauce, butter and cream, was served in bowls by Johann Gohoc.
I was also so happy that she served my fave French dish of hers – beef bourguignon, which she has really mastered. These were served in bowls by Pablo Capati, Aleth’s sensei. Pablo, by the way, established the Capati Pottery Studio in San Jose, Batangas in 2000. Check out what the UPCFA Cermaic Studio has to say about him:
There was also halibut for the fish lovers that Town and Country’s Alicia Colby Sy raved about. We enjoyed these on Jon and Tessy Pettyjohn plates which we picked out ourselves. My seatmate Didith Tan chose a plate by Tessy, which had intricately crowned corners. I chose a beautiful one by Jon (I did not know it was by him when I chose it) because it was kind of like a bowl and for some reason I prefer eating from bowls over plates.
Desserts were served in plates by Joey de Castro. (His is the nearest gallery, by the way, just on Edsa between Shaw and Guadalupe, if you would like to check out his works. ) Of the three desserts, Didith and Jon loved Aleth’s Kunafa, a Turkish dessert of shredded filo pastry stuffed with kefalograviera cheese. “That’s Chowee’s favorite,” she told when we told her we loved it. Chowee is Aleth’s dog. Lucky pooch! I, on the other hand, loved something Chowee and I won’t fight over – the chocolate mousse! Served in Pablo-made bowls.
As for our doggy bags? Dinner came with any item or set worth P2,000.00. (Of course, guests were free to purchase more.) How’s that for take home?
Check out more of their works:
For the works of Jon and Tessy Pettyjohn, visit https://www.facebook.com/pettyjohnpottery/.
For the works of Joey de Castro, visit https://www.facebook.com/joeydecastropottery/. His gallery is at Sierra Madre Pottery Studio. 586 Sierra Madre St., Brgy. Malamig, Mandaluyong City,
For the works of Aleth Ocampo, visit https://news.abs-cbn.com/life/10/22/17/chef-aleth-ocampo-launches-new-line-of-pottery.