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Instead of Marble or Clay, These Artists Sculpt With Food

Culture

Cassidy Dawn Graves | November 16, 2018
From cakes with mirrored glaze to dragons made of fruit, a look at some beautiful art that’s good enough to eat.

Food has been utilized in art as both medium and subject for countless years, from Jan Davidszoon de Heem’s 1648 painting “Still Life With Fruit and Ham” to contemporary artists like Jennifer Rubell and Chloe Wise, whose work includes everything from sculptures concealing cookies to designer handbags made of pancakes and PB&J. Some people, be they artists, chefs, or some combination of the two, make individual elements of a meal, like cake, eggshells, or even ice cubes, into something you’d want to hang in a museum—were it not also so tasty.

The Craft of Cakes

A perfect medium for “food as art” is the cake. It’s incredibly versatile in both shape and ingredient makeup, so it’s a prime vehicle for wild creativity. Baker Ksenia Penkina’s cakes have received widespread acclaim for their mirror glazes, which transform everyday baked goods into items that look more like dazzling gemstones than dessert. They’re full of bold colors, seamlessly shining surfaces, and patterns that seem inspired by the very cosmos themselves.

“Glazing is my favorite part. However, the most important part is the cake itself,” Penkina says. Beneath her stunning glazes, she prioritizes a “balance in textures”: precise layers of mousse, marmalade, sponge cake, and something crunchy like biscuit, for example. She’s inspired by innovation, in both the pastry world and in other industries, taking a cue for her creations from corners as unexpected as Tesla’s combination of luxurious design and advanced technology. Rather than use fancy tools, her palette consists only of high-quality, all-natural ingredients, plenty of passion, and a laser-like precision.

photo courtesy of Ksenia Penkina

Ukrainian pastry chef Dinara Kasko’s cakes are also visions to behold; their complex geometric exteriors make it hard to believe they’re edible until they’re cut into, revealing the delicate layers and flavors within. Kasko’s cakes set her apart because they’re made from 3D-printed molds, which she creates with modeling software, 3D-prints in plastic, and then casts and produces using silicone.

“Using different softwares, I can model beautiful objects that become my molds,” she explains, citing a recent origami-inspired collaboration with paper artist Ekaterina Lukasheva. She’s also crafted molds that resemble stacks of cherries, and for the math-lovers, an algorithmically generated cake with 81 unique components. The sky (and the software) is the limit.

“My dream is to mass-produce my molds and sell them worldwide, and this dream has almost been realized,” she says, as the molds now appear in a few stores and in the kitchens of pastry chefs around the world.

Artistic and Arctic

Not everyone’s consumable creations are meant to be dug into with a fork and knife: Some clink around in cocktails. Photographer and DJ Leslie Kirchhoff’s Disco Cubes are custom, high-end pieces of ice that serve to liven up a drink’s look and flavor, broadcast a brand to partygoers, or sometimes both of those at once. Her chilly creations—think cubes emblazoned with a high-end designer’s logo or frosty spheres containing miniature fruits or herbs—have been growing in acclaim and have even caught the attention of the New York Times.

photo courtesy of Disco Cubes

Kirchhoff’s cubes are inspired by art, like the futuristic creations of 20th-century furniture designer Verner Panton or Italian architect Ettore Sottsass’s colorful, geometric objects. She considers her cubes art, and also factors the vintage-looking photoshoots she conducts for them into the overall “artistry of the whole project.

Melting, Molding, and Other Risks

Working with edible items as (sometimes literally) raw materials poses unique challenges. “You are given a short window of time to create something breathtaking before nature takes its course,” explains Chef James Parker, who carves fruits and vegetables into detailed, ornate sculptural displays ranging from dragons to flowers and beyond. “Sculpting is not usually the challenge. Circumstances, time, temperature, logistics… that is challenging.”

photo courtesy of James Parker

Kirchhoff notes that working with ice comes with plenty of unique complications (aside from the risk of melting, of course), especially when you have to create a cube that’s both good-looking and complements what it’s served with. “Tomatoes look so awesome in clear ice, but often they expand and crack inside the cube, so, sadly, their success rate is pretty low. It’s surprising how many of my experiments end up being failures,” she says.

Cracking Open a New Type of Carving

For artist Shirley Hambrick, who engraves complex designs into eggshells, the difficulty of carving something tiny and fragile was part of the appeal. She was, she says, “drawn to the balance between getting the desired amount of detail while maintaining the integrity of the eggshell. It’s all about that balancing act.” While she’d like to experiment with different kinds of food-based projects, like watermelon sculpting, for now she likes the “relative permanence” of eggs.

photo courtesy of Shirley Hambrick

Made using whole eggs (she prefers them from ostriches, for the shells’ thickness) and an engraving tool originally meant for glass, Hambrick’s intricate carvings take her anywhere from 20 to 100 hours and are influenced by Celtic designs and nature, like trees full of twisting branches, intricate flowers, and complicated patterns like paisley and Celtic knots.

Humble Beginnings, Impressive Ends

These bakers and artists have impressive bodies of work, but they all had to start somewhere. Usually that somewhere was the kitchen, a place most people find themselves daily. Penkina grew up watching her sister make pastry and only decided to try it herself after pursuing many other career options; Kirchhoff told Munchies that one of her first ice cubes was made out of a happy accident. With luck, talent, commitment, and curiosity, these creators were able to turn everyday items into something groundbreaking.

“Some of the desserts I see on the web are truly inspirational,” says Penkina. “I even get goosebumps! So it moves me to create goosebumps for someone else.” Inspiration is the perfect springboard for action, so the next time you find yourself whipping up a culinary concoction, it might be worth your while to see just how creative you can get.

photo courtesy of Disco Cubes

Cassidy Dawn Graves is a writer, performer, and event producer/curator based in Brooklyn. Find her past work at cassidydawngraves.com, her latest writing + shows at tinyletter.com/cdg, and her sometimes-comedic folk-pop tunes at soundcloud.com/cdgcdg.

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