Splitting his time between Melbourne and Hong Kong, Ryan L Foote is an exceptionally innovative artist and designer, who turns his hand to everything from food and drink development to ceramics and space design, installations and objets d’art.
In this interview Ryan discusses how his ambitious scope and dedicated creative vision have led to the design of one-of-a-kind experiences, functional ceramics and 3D-printed chocolates!
Step into the immersive, meticulously created world of Ryan L Foote. This artist and designer is difficult to pigeonhole. He’s a culinary creative and an experience-maker, creating an astoundingly diverse variety of products, projects and events, all in his own unique fashion.
Ceramics are just one facet of the environments Ryan creates. His flatware typically serves edible artworks, plated up from his unique moulds. Meanwhile, bespoke art pieces, crafted from timber, metal, paint, 3-D printing (or any other media Ryan may have discovered) further set his scenes. ‘The elements of my practice may seem unconnected, but are intrinsically linked and inspire one another, creating an interesting spiral of influence and feedback,’ explains the creative.
Crafted and finished by hand, these various elements also come together across seas and cultures; Ryan has a workshop in Hawthorn East, and a home with test kitchen in Fitzroy, while his second base is in Hong Kong. Here, he resides on-and-off throughout the year, and shares a space with, wait for it, an artisanal chocolate factory!
Most recently, the experience wizard has been working on several new ceramic series. These have been paired with menus of original recipes, for conceptual events at home and abroad.
Tell us a little about your background, and how it has influenced what you create today?
At university I studied a degree in Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Sculpture and Spatial Practice. To earn a living, during this time I was also doing a lot of work designing and building sets for plays and musicals, which lead to sets for numerous fashion festivals around Australia, launch parties and event based projects.
As the two parallel careers progressed, my artwork became more installation based, and then at one point my artwork and my events just collided and started to feed off each other. My art practice became more immersive, with elements of sound, lighting and fashion. Continuing to push the experience, I started to include elements of food and drink, originally collaborating with chefs and developing the conceptual framework. Today, I have become increasing involved in developing recipes and food concepts myself, making my own plates and food moulds.
As an artist, I approach food thinking about the entire experience, from the environment to the eating – the result is part pop-up restaurant, part installation art, and part fashion show!
Do you find it challenging to work across so many different areas?
Yes and No. I find working in one area can aid another area, whether it be from firing ceramics in a kiln to baking bread in the oven, mixing the resins or making the perfect panna cotta. There are many elements and techniques that mirror one another.
The biggest challenge is jumping from the creative mindset to dealing with countless emails and feeling stuck between the workshop, kitchen, and the mailbox!
My favourite projects are when I create elements that involve designing and building the space, coming up with unique food concepts, developing the plates and how the menu will be served and enjoyed, as well as the styling, from the wait staff down to the invites.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?
It normally begins with a series of sketches and drawings (of a space, plate or recipe), which I then tease out. These ideas are often influenced and inspired by the world around us, from art to fashion, food, design, contemporary pop culture, other cultures and cuisines.
Due to the scale of my projects, I often need to take an almost scientifically methodical approach when it comes to managing elements simultaneously. Tempering chocolates, developing glaze recipes, perfecting delicate firing cycles… each element requires precision and attention to detail to get the ideal result.
Often I will take old techniques and combine then with new technologies or techniques from other fields to create new processes. For example, a cake glazing method can be applied to ceramic glazing to give surprising and effective results!
Can you tell us about your latest ceramics?
I developed the Bubble and Bento ranges while living in Hong Kong. The Bubble plates originally grew out of a project I was doing for the mid-autumn Mooncake Festival where I was creating a series of plates and chocolate mooncakes inspired by the lunar surface. The bubble glaze led to this new range of plates, platters and bowls.
The Bento range was inspired by traditional Japanese bento boxes but with a contemporary colour palette. The idea was to create a dish that could be used for either a shared meal or degustation type dinner, where elements of the meal were brought out dish-by-dish to form the final shape.
Which Australian designers, artists and creative people are you loving at the moment?
Nora – I originally met this restaurant’s team when they started with a café in Elgin Street, now turned restaurant, they have a unique and refreshing approach to the food they create and I love seeing their inspiring creations.
Four Pillars Gin, Fire Drum Vodka, Flower Dale Farm, and Playing with Fire Native Foods – I am often inspired by the new wave of Australian produce and products. All of these suppliers produce products I love.
Limedrop and MATERIALBYPRODUCT – these Fashion labels are sources of inspiration both through the collections they create but also their unique approach: Limedrop is fun and playful approach, while MATERIALBYPRODUCT is conceptual with a cross-disciplinary approach.
What are some resources that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Instagram – It’s an endless inspiration of food, art, fashion and design from around the world. #veryaddicted!
Food markets – whether it be Queen Victoria or South Melbourne markets, or outdoor street markets in Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Walking around and seeing fresh produce and street food is always a big source of inspiration.
Heritage museums – there is usually always an amazing collection of antique flatware featuring often forgotten and overlooked techniques and forms.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
One of the biggest and most challenging projects: The Diamond Lab, which was a sort of food and art pop-up restaurant. I created everything from a 14-metre-long sculpted diamond table, hundreds of porcelain diamond inspired plates, and an array of recipes and styled wait staff all inspired by this theme. Launched in early 2016 and then exhibited as a one night food art event at the National Gallery of Victoria, this has been by far one of the most challenging and satisfactory projects!
What would be your dream creative project?
I am currently working on a series of 3D-printed chocolates using both new and traditional methods, which I have been developing over the past year-and-a-half. These reimagine not only the traditional chocolate look by creating unique geometric, fractal and organic shapes, but also new and interesting flavours like yuzu and avocado, or strawberry and rose balsamic vinegar.
I would love to create a unique pop-up chocolate shop that immerses the viewer and plays with all their senses… hopefully the right space comes up!
What’s next for Ryan Foote?
Along with the new range of chocolates, I have just set up R. L. Foote Design Studio based in Melbourne, which is focused on delivering unique and contemporary ceramic flatware, silicon food moulds, interior design objects and event based designs. The studio has a particular interest in the designed food and beverage experience, thinking not only about the physical elements of the space (tables, seats, flatware), but also the ephemeral experience that runs along side these objects –imagining how the food and drink is served, eaten and played with. We conceptualise new food forms, textures, tastes, cultural influences and their effect on the dining experience.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood?
Fitzroy. After living in Hong Kong, I fully appreciate the abundance of good cafes with amazing coffee and food, along with artist run spaces, independent design shops, green streets and diverse cultures.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Industry Beans is one of my locals and I thoroughly love everything on their menu.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
When in Melbourne, it’s coffee and newspaper, then going for a run past Collingwood stadium to Yarra Bend and along the river, followed by a day in the workshop.
When I’m in Hong Kong it would be going for a run to the local market (Wan Chai Street market for fresh ingredients but also a couple of great bakeries on Wan Chai Road, try the pineapple bun!), followed by a drawn-out coffee and exploring the vibrant streets – I love Star St, Sun St and Moon Streets lots of design shops. Closer to home, Hollywood Road is filled with galleries and antique shops with delicate hand carved or painted pieces and don’t miss PMQ the old police marriage quarters now filled with design shops and craft markets. Finally my favourite yum cha place Dim Dim Sum in Bowrington. Cheap. Cheerful. So good!
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Nora restaurant. Again! They are producing some amazing food that is worth checking out.