Food & Wine

The Potter Beloved by SF’s Top Chefs

By Allison Landa

Jered Nelson fine-tunes a piece at his Emeryville studio, where he creates refined plateware for the likes of Michael Mina, Charles Phan and Evan and Sarah Rich. His wife, Sarah Kobrinsky, a poet, co-runs the thriving Bay Area business. (Zacharia Kobrinsky)

Jered Nelson is reflective. He’s sitting at the bar at San Francisco’s Rich Table, springtime sunlight dappling his face, a drink hard at hand. ¶ “You know,” he says, “I’ve never known a potter who retired.” ¶ Nelson certainly has no plans to do so. He’s too busy providing eye-catching wares to the City’s culinary elite. If the task has gotten to his head, however, one wouldn’t know it by the way Nelson presents himself. He’s relaxed, thoughtful, accessible — with pottery dust still under his fingernails from a day of work.

His company, Jered’s Pottery, is co-run with wife Sarah Kobrinsky, former poet laureate of Emeryville, whose book, Nighttime on the Other Side of Everything, arrives in the fall. At a recent event, Kobrinsky described their union as one between “the potter and the poet”; his eyes grow dark with love when discussing his wife.

“Sarah is the voice, the soul,” he says. “She’s the storyteller. She’s the one who translates my inability to communicate with the broader world. She’s the ambassador.”

Jered’s pottery. (Zacharia Kobrinsky)

Nelson’s self-deprecation belies his intimate connection with some of San Francisco’s most exciting chefs. He began his study of the craft at Moorhead State University in Minnesota, where he was influenced by the Japanese tradition of mingei. “One of the things was having it be available to regular people,” he says. “I mean, you’re working for the people, essentially.”

This touches on one of the company’s main guiding tenets: the idea that everyone should be able to have access to beautiful things. This approach is evident in Nelson’s work: It’s lovely pottery by and for the people made in his spacious Emeryville studio.

“When you’re going fast, it’s like a controlled fall, almost,” he says. “When your hands are on the clay, it’s pretty amazing. Like if I stopped in the middle of being in a motion while I was on the wheel, everything will fall apart.”

That hasn’t happened, though. Instead, Nelson has provided dinnerware to high-rent entities such as Michael Mina and, more recently, worked with chef Charles Phan of Slanted Door, chef Derek Simcik in Seattle, and Toptable Group in Canada. In addition to his work for Rich Table, Nelson has also collaborated with owners Evan and Sarah Rich on dinnerware for their newest endeavor, RT Rotisserie. Walking by the rotisserie on a balmy night, he pointed and chuckled.

“The tile,” he said.

Made by him? Of course.

Recently, Nelson penned a “Letter to a Young Potter” detailing some of the ins and outs of his process. One paragraph in particular shows how Nelson has specifically canted his work toward the restaurant industry: “The diner’s experience should be memorable and specific,” he writes. “The waitstaff needs to be able to carry the plate, set it down and pick it up to get it back to the dishwasher. If the plates are awesome-looking but the waitstaff fumbles to pick it up or can only carry one because of the weight, you have a problem. … The chef, however, uses the plate to control the temperature of the food and how much aroma gets to the table as well as how the diner sees and interacts with their food.”

Passion plus craft — a specialty honed by Nelson and passed down, like an heirloom, to some of the most celebrated restaurants up and down the West Coast.

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