Creativity in the kitchen is not limited to the dishes a person prepares.
Working in the kitchen can be quite fun – whether you are cooking your favorite dish or exploring creative food sculpting. You have probably seen many images online regarding fantastic food presentations by people who likely spent hours contorting the pieces of fruit, vegetables, or other edible items into artistic renderings of animals, plants, or events. Have you ever created a beautiful image using food as your art instrument? Have you ever explored farmer’s markets for fruits or vegetables with unusual appearances? Are you a part of the “Eat Ugly Foods Movement” - encouraging others to seek out, purchase, and consume misshapen produce?
Answer yes to any of the questions noted above? If so, I offer congratulations on choosing one or more of those avenues of food exploration.
One of my favorite memories regarding food art and sculpting was from a family gathering during my last year of graduate school. The immediate and extended family were all anticipating joining my Grandparents in Florida to celebrate Christmas. My brother, an art teacher and professional potter, had learned an interesting way to cook a turkey. He said that coating the turkey with parchment paper, then wrapping the meat in potter’s clay creates a pressure cooker for thorough, efficient cooking of the poultry. Figure 1 reveals the clay turkey/snowman prior to baking.
Coating the bird with parchment strips wet down with cooking spray provides a barrier between the meat and the clay. The earthen coating allows the foul to bake faster, requiring only 90 minutes for baking. Expressing enjoyment of the holiday, my brother began using additional clay to sculpt a snowman on the turkey to follow the theme of the holiday.A meat thermometer (see Figure 3) was inserted into the structure to assure complete cooking of the bird. Coating the foul results in full baking of the meat within 90 minutes. Parchment and clay wrapping also help contain the juices – leading to a delicious, moist suppe
That turkey was the best one I’ve ever tasted. Our family thoroughly enjoyed the bird, leaving minimal leftovers for sandwich construction. The method of using clay for storage as well as preparation of food has been around for many years. The Basques would salt fish or meat, then cover it in wet clay. The salting and clay coating helped preserve the fish or meat. The clay kept the meat or fish cool until it could be cooked. Use of this technique began in the 10th century and helped the Basques transport meat or fish many miles from where they caught, trapped, hunted, or purchased during travel. When they had the opportunity to cook these foods they would throw the clay-bound meat onto the coals of a hot fire. Use of clay to facilitate cooking also occurred in South America, North America, Africa, and Asia.
Figure 2: Dan completing the clay wrapping and snowman sculpting process.
Clay has also been used to facilitate cooking through use of Terracotta (clay) pots and pans. Some cooks claim that the contemporary cookware does not provide the same quality of taste and texture of the meal when compared to the terracotta forms. One reason the clay cooking vessels are preferred to some of the coated, pyrex, or other types is that the clay pot allows the heat to be evenly distributed within the food and cookware. Even temperatures allow thorough cooking and less risk of food-borne illness from improper cooking.
Figure 3: Placing the Clay Snowman Turkey Sculpture in the oven.
Food fun is available through the act of cooking, decorating (food arrangements, dining accessories, or sculpting) as well as in shapes of usual growth patterns of produce. I enjoy seeking out oddly shaped fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets. It is easy to find many amusing structures that some people may be unwilling to buy due to the odd appearance of the produce. Current estimates reflect that 20-40% of fresh fruit and vegetable production is wasted worldwide due to having a less than perfect appearance. The "Eat Ugly Fruits and Vegetables" Platform is a movement focusing on encouraging people to eat these unique produce items so they do not go to waste.
Figure 4: Peppers that look like birds. I was the last person at the Farmer's Market that morning and all of the other peppers had been purchased. These tasted just fine - it is hard to know if the odd appearance lead to them being passed up for something else.
If the farmers are unable to sell these items at farmers markets, incorporate it in their canning or self-consumption, the produce goes to waste. There is nothing wrong with these items. The flavor is the same, though they do not have regular appearance sought by grocers and consumers. I think the unusual appearance makes these food items more interesting.
Some people may view this pumpkin as marred or less than perfect. In doing so, they overlook the character of the produce. Looking at it as less desirable for use misses the features that the pitted surface could accent if a person were to carve it for a Halloween decoration. The accentuated creased lines in its surface also enhance the appearance.
Given that the commercial grocers only buy fruits and vegetables with “proper appearance” you never know what else you may find available. Some farmers and gardeners often sell unusual looking produce at a considerable discount. There is nothing wrong with the food, it merely seems quite funny or a little odd. They are all tasty, whether or not the food has a uniform appearance.
A full array of food sculptures or strategically arranged fruits, vegetables, and proteins are view-able on the internet. The creativity is impressive – it is reasonable to wonder how long it took to assemble the particular food presentation when looking at these works of art. Some of the sculptures are made by trimming or carving the food items.Wouldn’t it be great to see the listing of preparation times in addition to the descriptions and photos of the food art?
Cakes are likely food item most frequently involved in food sculpting or decorative flourishes. Cake decorating and fondant art formations would be fun to explore if studying a food-focused career or hobby. With all of the food fabric that Grubdudz has, creating GrubDudz Products is just as fun as working with actual food substances. What food sculptures or arrangements have you made over the years?
Figure 5: Pitted Pumpkin
Figure 6: Pizza Snakes prior to cooking.
Food art can be a family activity. Making Pizza Snakes with my nieces and nephews is always lots of fun. Conversation regarding the types of pizza snakes under construction and filled the room. The thrilling details of assembly - rolling out the pizza dough, applying sauce, meat, cheese, and other goodies for the "guts" of our pizza snakes, rolling them back up for baking, and watching them cook. The aroma of the tasty dinner increasing our anticipation of consuming our creations. One year we even used sliced olives or pepperoni for the eyes, pepperoni tongues, and almond slivers for fangs.
Have fun with food - explore it with your taste buds and your eyes. Try to enjoy the preparation process as well as that can contribute at least half of the satisfaction with the result. Feel free to explore new foods, ugly foods, different recipes, and unique methods of food presentation.
Figure 7: Cooked Pizza Snakes