While sampling the charcuterie at Culina, MRKT or Corso 32, the catered food from Elm Caf, or even while wetting your lips with a beer flight at The Sugarbowl, you may have noticed that, despite their differences, the restaurants share something in common – the sturdy, smooth-finished and elegant wooden charcuterie boards on which the food is served.
The boards, while not identical, share a common origin: They’re the work of award-winning designer Geoffrey Lilge, who’s returned to his furniture-design roots with his new kitchenware endeavour, On Our Table. With help from his wife, the former chef and owner of Highlands Kitchen, Cindy Lazarenko, and veteran master cabinetmaker Christopher Brandt, Lilge’s reignited passion for product design has grown On Our Table from a pet-project in charcuterie boards to a full-fledged business.
From high-end charcuterie boards (they’re currently the most expensive boards sold at Williams-Sonoma across North America) to uniquely designed kitchen accessories and soon-to-be-released full-kitchen systems, On Our Table is fast becoming a niche-market provider for consumers who want more than the cookie-cutter boards found in box stores. “People want their restaurants to be completely unique. And they don’t want the standard menu holder or charcuterie board. They want to stand out and they’re taking design into every level of their restaurant,” says Lilge. “We make charcuterie boards, and so what is the best size and shape to fit on a restaurant’s table? Well, it varies. So we worked with chefs to come up with designs.”
Collaboration is key, says Lilge, when it comes to design. It’s a lesson he learned in a past life (all the way back in 1994) as the design director and co-founder of the furniture manufacturer, Pure Design. There, Lilge collaborated with designers to create products that could be found everywhere from Starbucks and Crate & Barrel to the set of The Tonight Show. The company seemed to be unstoppable when it received the Editor’s Award for furniture at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2001, but when 9/ll created new challenges in exporting, the business “trailed off dramatically,” says Lilge – prompting him to leave the company in 2003 and focus his energies on restaurant design and instructing at the University of Alberta.
Product design was all but a thing of the past as Lilge worked with his wife to aid in the design of Highlands Kitchen (previously Culina Highlands). But when the chef found that the task of finding quality charcuterie boards for her restaurant (at least ones that would comfortably fit the dimensions of the small tables in the intimate space) too daunting, Lilge found a project he couldn’t resist.
He set to work on creating the perfect boards to suit his wife’s restaurant – quality boards that aspired to be heirloom objects. Made originally from walnut wood, the first boards were created by an old colleague of Lilge’s, Brandt, owner of Woodcraft Design in St. Albert. Shortly thereafter, Lilge createda board for his brother-in-law, Brad Lazarenko, the chef and owner of the Culina restaurants, and sold boards to Sugarbowl, all designed specifically to the restaurants’ needs. Soon, diverse collections of charcuterie-board designs were in the works, and Lilge, a self-proclaimed “serial-entrepreneur,” tapped Brandt to build more.
An idea for a new venture was brewing and, with two young girls at home, Lilge and Lazarenko decided to sell Highlands Kitchen to pursue their charcuterie-board business full-time. Partnering with master cabinetmaker Brandt, Lilge moved his design studio to Brandt’s woodworking shop in St. Albert, and On Our Table hit the ground running. Two years later, the business has been recognized by the The New York Times on two occasions, featured in magazines such as Wallpaper*, Monocle and Canadian House & Home, and had their charcuterie boards featured on the cover of Food & Wine Magazine.
“We’re in start-up mode again,” says Cindy Lazarenko, who notes that this project was supposed to offer more free time. The irony is not lost on her. “We went through that with the restaurant before, and now we’re back in it, marketing and branding and all that.”
The couple, of course, can’t complain. They’ve produced more than 50 items made for kitchens, with half a dozen new products released every few months. On Our Table has since moved outside of strictly making charcuterie boards – thanks, in no small part, to collaborations with Edmonton chefs. After all, every product they collaborate on ends up in the On Our Table product line. One of the newest products, for instance, a cutlery box, was originally made to suit the needs of Corso 32’s chef and owner, Daniel Costa. “We can do square boards and that would be it, but to collaborate is the interesting part of it,” says Lilge. “It’s what keeps me interested: Meeting new people and developing new products non-stop.”
On Our Table also collaborates with chefs from outside of Edmonton. The renowned executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, Dan Barber, has also placed orders with On Our Table, giving the couple, who are fans of the chef, quite the thrill. “That’s one of the best restaurants in the U.S.,” says Lazarenko, “so it’s cool to work with them, making them a lot of different custom boxes.”
Boxes, butcher blocks, bowls, knife holders, kitchen tools and beer flight trays have all been thrown into the mix, and the business has even brought new types of wood into its growing catalogue, such as Canadian maple and mountain ash, creating a true Albertan board. On Our Table has sold its products through Williams-Sonoma stores across North America and local stores, such as 29 Armstrong, The Pan Tree, the Art Gallery of Alberta, Plum Home + Design and Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks in St. Albert – all as part of the company’s passion to bring what’s on its designers’ tables to customers’ homes.
Though the products were originally designed for restaurants, Lazarenko, who uses the boards for her catering business, tests out many of the products in her own home.”My kitchen is well-stocked. I have a lot of our cutting boards, charcuterie boards and knife racks,” says Lazarenko. “Honestly,” adds Lilge, “there’s no better testing ground than this chef’s kitchen.”
OK, be honest, have you taken your Christmas decorations down, yet?