"Each piece of wood is different. I'm helping wood to be what it needs to be instead of what I want it to be," he said. He sees his role as reclaiming the life of the tree in a useful way.
Although the diversity in wood grain and knots give each bowl a different look, Ullman does produce multiple versions of the same piece. Jason Wilson, a James Beard Award-winning chef, recently ordered 50 charcuterie platters for his restaurant in Seattle.
Many of Ullman's orders come from people who saw his work in his restaurants in the Northwest and continue to request them. "Some people order them every time they need a wedding gift," he said.
Curling bits of wood fly as Ullman applies a gouge, a chisel-like tool, to pieces of wood turning on the lathe. He subtly shifts the gouge as a bowl begins to take shape. Even though he's right-handed, he uses his left hand to guide the tool because he learned the technique from many viewings of a video of master bowl maker Mike Mahoney.
"When my daughter wouldn't sleep, we'd watch that video and she'd fall asleep. I started left-handed because he does," Ullman said.
After he roughs out a bowl, he removes it from the lathe and coats it in wax. The bowls rest on shelves for a year to air-dry. The process can't be rushed or the wood will split when the bowl is finished.
About 120 bowls line the workshop shelves awaiting the final step when Ullman returns them to the lathe for slight reshaping. As the bowls dry, they "go out of round," expanding more in one direction or another.
He rubs the finished bowls with walnut oil because it penetrates the wood, dries hard and won't go rancid. The bowls are then ready for vigorous use, requiring only a wipe with walnut oil when they look or feel dry. Ullman includes a card with each bowl purchased that reads in part:
"I want things sturdy in function, gorgeous in form, and perfectly executed. I emulate this in my art. I make the bowl you love, the one you reach for every day. I am Chef Bear, and I made your bowl."
Ullman's bowls are sold at Main Street Gallery in Buckhannon, Bridgeport Farmers Market and online at www.chefbear.com. He was recently juried at Tamarack, where he has had items for sale this month. Email Ullman at chefbearull...@gmail.
Robinson is a former staff writer for the Sunday Gazette-Mail.