Dubai-based Urban Yogi creates handcrafted, custom-designed tableware

The Urban Yogi is built on sustainability principles, working with artisans in India and the UAE to revive traditional crafts and create unique products, including furniture, home accessories and tableware.

Custom-designed tableware produced by The Urban Yogi, which works with artisans in India and the UAE. Styling by Sarah Maisey / The National; photo by Victor Besa for The National
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It’s no secret that eating is a multi-sensory experience – the proverb “we eat with our eyes as well as our palate” has been around since the early 1900s. Chefs have long realised that how they present their food is almost as important as the food itself, and are constantly looking for ways to highlight and complement their culinary creations.

A study in 2012, conducted by the Polytechnic University of Valencia and Oxford University, tested whether the design and colour of a container could have an effect on the perceived taste of whatever was contained in that vessel. “The colour of the container where you serve food and drinks can enhance some of its attributes, like flavour and aroma,” noted Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, one of the authors of the study. “There’s no fixed rule to tell which colour enhances what food. This varies depending on the type of food, but the truth is that the effect is there. Companies should pay more attention to the container because it has a lot more potential than you imagine.”

In the UAE, a growing number of chefs are recognising this as fact. “It might sound like a cliché, but food needs a base or a foundation, and tableware offers that foundation,” notes chef Spencer Black, director of culinary for Vida Hotels. “Tableware is able to tell a story even before the food arrives. And plates are the frames we use for our creations.”

Vida Hotels is one of a number of companies that, when looking for distinctive tableware to give its dishes an edge, has called on The Urban Yogi. The Dubai-based brand is best known for its ­retail offering, and recently started ­selling its colourful wares in The Dubai Mall’s Galeries Lafayette. But founder Nisha Varman Shetty has identified an opportunity to diversify – by offering handcrafted, custom-designed tableware to the UAE’s ever-growing assortment of eateries.

“Dubai is bringing in the best of food and the best of chefs. But every time we speak to chefs, and we ask where they are buying their tableware from, they’ll tell us that they pay so much attention to their menu and ingredients, but when it comes to tableware, it’s always a last-minute purchase from somewhere like Ikea. So there’s this disconnect between what you are serving and what you are serving it on,” Shetty explains.

The Urban Yogi is built on sustainability principles, working with artisans in India and the UAE to revive traditional crafts and create unique products, including furniture, home accessories and tableware. “So whenever people do projects with The Urban Yogi, they are also building CSR [corporate social responsibility] in to their business model,” says Shetty. “We still work with artisans, whether it is for tableware or for project furniture or rugs or carpets. At the beginning of 2016, Urban Yogi started looking at the whole ‘Made in UAE’ movement. We want to collaborate a lot more with local artists. Dubai has so many talented artisans from all over the world, so we are working with six or seven UAE-based potters who are world-class technicians in their trade.”

Shetty liaises directly with chefs, designing tableware that matches their menu and style of fare. Even a cursory glance reveals the breadth of options on offer, in terms of shape, size, colours and glazes. And because minimum quantities are low, the service can be used by design-savvy individuals as well as professional restaurateurs.

“A lot of companies work with us because they get something different; they get something customised, which is not very expensive; the timelines are great and the minimum quantities are very low, so there is a lot of flexibility in what we offer. Plus we design our own stuff. So you will never find the same plate in two different cafes if you work with The Urban Yogi.”

This was a major draw for Bec Steven, operations manager at Bull & Roo Hospitality and Investments, the company behind the Tom & Serg, Common Grounds and The Sum of Us concepts. “Being in such a cut-throat industry, we wanted something no one else had, something that set us apart from the competition. Nisha and the guys at The Urban Yogi provided us with bespoke pieces that you won’t see anywhere else; they went above and beyond to ensure the products were what we wanted and were of the highest quality.”

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