Spotlight on Chef Turned Ceramicist Alex Seidel

Alex Seidel dishes on his new venture into pottery.

Chef Alex Seidel
Photo by Kate Rolston.

Chef Alex Seidel’s epicurean journey—from the seeds in the soil to the dishes in the kitchen to the plates on the table—epitomizes his deep understanding of the culinary world. As the visionary restaurateur behind Fruition and Mercantile Dining & Provisions, he’s not only earned the prestigious title of James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest in 2018 but has continuously elevated his dining concepts. When the pandemic hit, Seidel didn’t just sit back; he took a seat at the potter’s wheel and began throwing clay. Mentored by friend Brian Gabbard, Alex finds that his pottery work allows him to present his dishes with another layer of artistry. Seidel’s foray into ceramics has given form to his flavors, proving that he’s mastered the art of firing up all the senses. We sat down with the chef-cum-potter to dig into the details.

How did you first get into pottery? “At first, I was looking for a local potter to supply flatware to my restaurants that no one else could get, but then I started almost stalking my neighbor Brian Gabbard because I wanted to cook with him. He makes amazing Korean food. That’s how I found out he made great pottery. He encouraged me to try it out myself, and he has been a great teacher and mentor ever since. I fell in love with the tranquility, the creative peace of the process. And I was making something that could actually enhance my food creations. Now, I have a nice little area in my basement with a kiln and a wheel where I can tinker around on weekends.”

How is cooking like making pottery? How is it different? “Both come from your mind—it’s something you want to express. It takes time to become good at both. They are each physical, demanding, and can get messy. I will make mistakes in both and have to throw out dishes, but that human element is probably the best part about it. You can discard it, learn from it, and do it better next time. It’s different, though, because cooking professionally is like a team sport. Pottery you do on your own. But, at the same time, Brian is my coach.”

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Has a pottery dish ever inspired one of your food dishes? “Brian made these little crocks, which immediately inspired me to use them at Fruition and fill them with mini pot pies. I love thinking about what vessels I can use to amplify my cooking. I would love to start making little ramekins and condiment dishes to help around the kitchen, but the smaller the piece, the harder it is to make. I am also still working on a shallow bowl that is versatile enough to be both a bowl and a plate, but I keep jacking it up. Making bowls that stack is actually pretty challenging.”

You share photos of pottery work on Instagram as @claydustcooks. Can you tell us about the name? “The name was inspired by my grandfather, who was a woodworker who went by the name ‘Sawdust.’ So, the name ‘Claydust’ is an ode to him. I post photos of my work and progress there—both the finished pieces and the ones you don’t typically see, like the ones that cracked before even making it to the kiln.”