The other day my family and I went to a new restaurant in town. Overall, it was a perfectly adequate experience. The staff was attentive, the food was tasty and served promptly after ordering, the dining room was well decorated and had a nice ambiance. All in all, I’d say it was an experience I’d be willing to repeat. However, there was an oddity about this restaurant that gave me pause. You see, they didn’t serve their food on traditional dinnerware. There was nary a plate to be found. They instead served all their food, yes even complimentary bread, cheese, and desserts, on slate.
This was immediately concerning to me. Slate, as most people know, is simply a rock that can be found naturally occurring, in some regions more prominently than others, but I digress. We were being given food that was resting on rocks.
I’m not so naive as to suggest that these slates weren’t perfectly clean. I’m sure they’ve made their rounds through the dish washers’ hands in warm, soapy water. And I understand that these particular slates were cut and styled for the express purpose of being dinnerware. But I was nonetheless concerned more from a manufacturing perspective. I’d had, through limited experiences before, like at work events or fancy catered parties, been served food on slate. I concur that it’s definitely a unique and picturesque way to present the food, but do either of those things take priority over the safety of edibility of the food? I should certainly think not.
My main concern was the quality of the slate itself. Slate is a stone, if left untreated, prone to chips and breakages. It’s hard to imagine something less appetizing than biting into a piece of food and finding a rock in it. Don’t get me wrong, this definitely did not happen, but the mere thought of it is worrisome, at best. Secondly, slate is not something one can just eat off of without some form of surface treatment. It would need to be sanitized and sealed or order to not only make it safe to eat off of, but keep it safe after it is washed.
I don’t ever mean to be “that customer,” but I flagged down a waiter and asked him about their slate plates. He was not sure where they were from, but assured me he would find out. Only several minutes later the owner himself jovially approached us eager to discuss his plates. The company he purchased from, aptly named Slateplate, was a small business based entirely out of the US, manufacturing and all. This alone was somewhat assuring, as I know that US standards for safety are more thorough and more highly regulated than say, Chinese standards.
That night at home I googled around. I dug up some Chinese slate plate websites and perused their products. The were coarse, gray looking plates that seemed untreated. The website assured me that it was rubbed down with a “sealing oil” (their words, not mine), but the specifics of this magical sealing oil are probably best left to one’s imagination. Sure, it’s most likely fine, but I could find literally no information on it. As someone who works with chemicals for a living, I’m all too familiar with the plethora of things that could, even without malintent, be terribly wrong with a “sealing oil.” Would you feed your family food off a tray that used an oil you could find no information on?
I eventually got around to looking up this Slateplate place. On looks alone their slate seemed far superior to their Chinese counterparts. Slateplate, however, has pages dedicated to its manufacturing process. The slate is manufactured and treated in such a way that it will not chip or break though simple and regular usage. They also use a high-grade mineral oil to seal the slate. The is what helps prevent those breakages, and also what keeps it chemically safe to consume food from. This is most assuredly a perfectly safe way to protect any food that comes in contact with the slate. These factors are very important for using these plates for your restaurant
So, despite my initial concerns, I have to conclude that I’m perfectly comfortable with myself and my family eating off of slate, at least Slateplate slate. They also have articles at slateplate that discusses other types of dinnerware. Slate plates certainly won’t be a barrier that prevents us from returning to any restaurants that we enjoy. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to admit it was fun and delightfully posh to dine off slate now that my concerns have been alleviated.