A bunch of people have asked me about the slate plate I used for my MasterChef audition dish, as seen in this post, wondering where they could get them, etc. Well, you can't get them anywhere, because I made them. Yeah, I made the dish.
That's not to say there aren't options around for slate dishes. Crate and Barrel, for instance, sells some for as much as $25. For a long time I was really liking the idea of presenting on slate plates, but didn't want to spend what they cost from Crate and Barrel. I also felt that the Crate and Barrel ones were a bit too squared, rather than natural-looking.
Increasingly I find that the places to go for innovative service pieces, and to buy unusual equipment are not kitchenware stores, not Crate and Barrel or Bed Bath and Beyond, not even restaurant supply stores. And they definitely are not a Front Of The House catalog. The places to go for interesting equipment and service pieces are Home Depot, hardware stores, lumber yards, Michael's art supply stores, TAP Plastics, science supply stores, library supply stores, etc. Those are the places where you're going to be inspired.
So, as is my wont, I went to the Home Depot and found a relatively large selection of slate tiles. I bought the tiles (about $1.60 each) and some tile sealer/enhancer (to make the porous slate waterproof and food-safe), and went home and got to work. I tried using a manual tile cutter, but it was extremely difficult and I didn't want such square edges anyway. Rather than renting an electric tile saw, I decided to just go at the tiles with a hammer. I figured out a way to get somewhat straight lines when cracking tiles by clamping boards along the break point. Then I whack all the edges carefully with the hammer in order to rough them up and get unexpected and natural looking lines. Finally, I seal the tiles with several coats of sealer/enhancer. Give them a nice wash and they're ready to go! I yield about one dish per tile, because the desired dish size is about half the size of the tiles (so, 12" x 6"), but I get a lot of breakage. That makes the total cost of these dishes around $2 each.
Now that I have the process down, and bought the necessary sealer and enhancer (which comes in a large enough quantity to make hundreds of these), I could make tons of them pretty easily. Anyone want to buy some?
That's officially bad ass. I actually bought a few of the Crate & Barrel slate dishes and agree, I'd prefer non straight edges. I'll shoot you off an e-mail.
Posted by: Jai Kohli at January 28, 2010 2:03 AM
So you are breaking off the slate that is exposed and keeping what is clamped under the boards?
Thanks for sharing, I need to try this. Also have you thought about gluing felt on the bottom in order to have a non-slip and counter/table friendly service?
Posted by: Chicken Fried Gourmet at January 28, 2010 1:57 PM
Thanks, Jai. I'll respond to your email.
Michael, in theory I'm breaking the tiles at their midpoint and can use both halves. In practice, one of the two halves usually splits and is unusable. I've gotten two dishes out of some tiles, and I've gotten zero dishes out of some tiles (at least, zero larger dishes--you can always get smaller pieces to hold canapes or mignardises). The trick is that the boards have to exert fairly even pressure along the desired break-line, or else the tile will split laterally instead of along the desired break line. So in addition to the board you see, I also use shims and that sort of thing.
Posted by: Barzelay at January 28, 2010 3:24 PM
Nice master chef dish,good luck!
The plates would be nice for charcuterie..i be interested buying from you..
Posted by: leyla at January 28, 2010 8:01 PM
Thanks for the tips, I am going to try this out.
Posted by: Chicken Fried Gourmet at January 29, 2010 3:49 PM
To be fair, the dish at Crate and Barrel of comparable size to yours is only $9.95, not $25.
But it's still pretty awesome to make your own. I think they look great!
Posted by: Cara at February 3, 2010 11:33 PM
Manresa serves their first and last dishes on a similar thing.
Posted by: Eugene at February 10, 2010 11:54 AM
hi nice plates...I want to try this but did you repaint the plates or is that what the tile sealer/enhancer was for? if also possible which tile sealer/enhancer did you use? thanks
Posted by: Joseph at April 24, 2010 8:26 PM
I would also like to know what sealer you used. Thank you!
Posted by: Wendy at February 13, 2011 1:02 PM
Hi, what sealer do you use to make it food safe?
Posted by: Nahid at April 8, 2011 10:28 AM
Hello everyone. We're a small business that makes slate plates for retail sale in stores and online, but we're also a very community-oriented company so I would be happy to help answer some of your questions and give you some helpful tips if you would like to make your own slate plates and trays.
First and foremost, you really need to use a specific kind of slate. You can't just grab a reclaimed slate off a roof and expect to make it into a plate you can eat off of. That could lead to very bad results for two reasons: first, slate is a shale rock and chips and flakes easily. The older the slate and the more weathering it has, the more likely it is to have these. Second, since it is worn, it loses its "non-porous" qualities which is what makes slate food safe in the first place. This means there are places food can get stuck and bacteria can form, aka making you sick.
When you select a reclaimed slate, make sure the surface is very flat and uniform. The edges will always be chipped, this is the nature of the stone, but the face should be flat. You'll want to wash your slate heavily and scrape it down with a wire brush to release any flakes or chips on the surface. If you have 'stains' on your slate, they're not going to come out- so pick a good looking slate! Lastly, you will want to seal it with olive oil or mineral oil. That is what will give it the luster, and also help further protect it. Wipe it dry and the oil will still form a very thin coat.
The biggest hurdle you are going to come across is cutting your slate. Be very careful because broken edges are literally razor sharp. All of our shop workers wear poly-coated gloves to protect their fingers.
Anyway, hope that all helps. If you decide you'd just like to buy some already done slates, we have a variety of sizes for slate plates, trays, and more on our website. Either way, good luck to you!!!
Posted by: Slateplate at July 28, 2011 7:15 AM