Once upon a time in high school, Travis McFlynn had an "aha moment": He had found his calling in pottery. Today, the Oakland-based potter supplies some of the Bay Area's buzziest restaurants with his gorgeous, custom-made ceramics and cookware.
Like many a Bay Area culinary star, you might say McFlynn got his start at Chez Panisse. He moved to Oakland to start at CCA in 2008, and got a job to pay the bills as a foodrunner at the legendary Berkeley restaurant. After a few weeks on the floor, he noticed there simply weren’t enough creamers for the coffee service. So he made his own, and brought in some prototypes to show the staff. Chez Panisse ordered 30 creamers that day, the first order of several for the restaurant that would soon also include butter dishes, bean pots, and saltcellars.
With the seal of approval from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, McFlynn's business took shape overnight. Charlie Hallowell from Pizzaiolo ordered custom oyster plates. Zuni's Gilbert Pilgrim requested cazuelas. William Werner of Craftsmen & Wolves needed a special mini-mug for sipping chocolate.
These days, as owner of sara mc design, where McFlynn specializes in flameware ceramics—a type of pottery whose special clay formula allows cookware to withstand extremely high temperatures and direct open flames without the risk of breaking—the chef collaborations are endless, from Molina in Mill Valley to Commis in Oakland to Aaxte, which recently opened in SF's revamped Swedish American Hall.
(McFlynn's custom-made bowl for Bar Tartine)
One of McFlynn's latest projects, with Oakland’s Ramen Shop (helmed by more Chez Panisse alums), is a perfect example of the potter's taste and talent for bespoke ceramics that answer chefs' particular needs. Looking for just the right bowls for serving their tsukemen dipping ramen—in which the diner dips cold noodles from one bowl into a second bowl full of warm, pork-rich ramen broth, quickly before the broth gets cold—Ramen Shop asked McFlynn for a smart solution. The result: a new broth bowl with a crevice that holds heated stones to keep the broth warm till the last drop.
“That’s one of my favorite parts of the process,” McFlynn explains with excitement, “when a chef comes to me with a problem, and we come up with something just crazy enough to solve it.”
Good news: You don't have to be a professional chef to partake of McFlynn's lovely cookware. Select pieces are available for purchase in his online store. // sara mc design (Oakland), saramcdesign.com
Omar Mamoon is the founder of Dough & Co.