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A canvas for the new Nordic cuisine

Polish ceramist Magdalena Kałużna creates bespoke tableware for several acclaimed Scandinavian chefs and their restaurants. Here she tells us how she got her start in the industry and the secret to the perfect glaze

Text Laura Engstrøm
Photography Sine Brooker

When the renowned chef Kristian Baumann asked Magdalena Kałużna if she would make the tableware for 108, his new restaurant in Copenhagen, she just said yes. “But I’d never made a plate for a restaurant in my whole life,” Kałużna giggles.

Magdalena Kałużna in her studio in Copenhagen
Magdalena Kałużna in her studio in Copenhagen

Co-owned by René Redzepi, the restaurant 108 is called Noma’s little sister. Ambitions are high, and the tableware had to go along with the restaurant’s casual approach to fine dining and reflect the feeling of terroir cuisine.

Having just majored in fine arts at the University of Technology in Poznań, Poland, Magdalena Kałużna made sculptures. She had decided to follow her boyfriend, whom she had known for four months, to Copenhagen. But Magdalena Kałuzna hardly knew anyone in Copenhagen, much less what she would do, and her boyfriend was often working 16 hours a day as a chef.

Magdalena Kałużna -
A ceramist’s work always includes some very personal secrets of how to get a certain result

“I made my sculptures in clay and started to look for at job that had something to do with ceramics. I got a part-time job at the ceramist studio and shop Uh la la, where I could fire my own things after work,” 24-year old Kałużna recalls.

Magdalena Kałużna learned to shape porcelain and how to fire it, but that was about it. “All ceramists keep their little secrets to themselves. That’s just how it is, and I’m not sure I would tell exactly how I make the glaze if an assistant came to work with me,” Kałużna says.

And then Kristian Baumann turned up and asked for his new tableware. Before being able to present anything to him, Magdalena Kałużna spent hours in front of her computer screen watching YouTube videos of how to work with the glaze and how to shape the plaster moulds. And she needed her own working space.

Kałużna shows us around in her little workshop in Copenhagen, pointing out the help she got from friends. “A ceramist I knew had heard that they were throwing this potter’s wheel out. This table I got from a friend, and another friend lent me the money for the kiln.”

Soon, Magdalena Kałużna was able to present her first plate to Kristian Baumann, a simple, pale plate with a deep-blue back. The feeling is rustic yet delicate. He liked it immediately.

‘ All ceramists keep their little secrets to themselves ’

Magdalena Kałużna - Special forms and colours are created in direct contact with the chefs according their needs
Special forms and colours are created in direct contact with the chefs according their needs

“This blue is made especially for 108 and corresponds with the colouring in the restaurant. That specific glaze is only for them,” Kałużna says.

So far she has made over a thousand plates for the newly opened restaurant, working night and day in the heat from the kiln. A plate takes time. Shaped, fired, polished, glazed and fired again, it might easily take a week. If there are no surprises, that is.

“You never know how it will turn out. Maybe I fired it too hard or the glaze didn’t react the way I thought it would. A part of the process can’t be controlled,” Kałużna recounts. The final result of the process is out of her hands.

“Sometimes Kristian Baumann tells me about a dish he wants to make and which shape he would like the plate or the bowl to have, but that’s about it,” Kałużna says.

Kristian Baumann was not the only one looking for a special way to present his cuisine. So did the barista Mikaela Wallgreen from the café chain The Coffee Collective. She was competing at the World Brewers Master Cup and was searching for a cup to present her coffee in. She had seen Magdalena Kałużna’s work and together they came up with a handy, elegant cup of porcelain. This year Mikaela Wallgreen won a silver medal at the World Brewers Cup. At the moment Magdalena Kałużna is working on a special edition for The Coffee Collective. The Coffee Collective plans to serve its gourmet coffee in the handmade cups and eventually sell them.

And what’s next? Magdalena Kałużna shrugs, taking a look at the load of tableware in the oven. The plates are being made for a private client, especially designed with and for him. “I don’t know. So far I’m really, really busy,” she says.

Text: Laura Engstrøm
Photography: Sine Brooker