by Elias Wee
DON’T play with your food – that’s what some parents might say to their naughty kids at the dinner table.
But for some adults, getting creative with food is paying off. When treated with a little care, and a dash of creativity, food can become an avenue for artistic expression. Sometimes, the hardest part can be just eating these edible creations.
Here are four women, who have turned their penchant for food “play” into something more – an income stream, successful blogs and best-selling cookbooks:
Ms Shirley Wong
(Little Miss Bento)
She calls herself a bento artist – the Japanese-style boxed lunch or bento as it is commonly known has infinite variations of rice, vegetables, eggs and meat. For Ms Wong, 34, creating bentos and playing with food has become her art form. A quick look at her most recent blog entries, filed under “Kawaii Bento” (Kawaii means cute, in Japanese), makes this clear. Pokemon, Star Wars, Snoopy, and Hello Kitty bentos – Ms Wong has taken the traditional bento to the next level. According to her, bentos combine her love for cute things with the delicate flavours of Japanese cuisine.
Ms Wong makes these bentos for herself and her family, and “occasionally accedes to a friend’s request” for a bento. Her love for Japanese culture began when she was a student watching Japanese drama series, and later manga and animation.
Making bentos, according to Ms Wong, was difficult at first. After innumerable hours of practising and many kitchen disasters, it now takes her an average of one hour to complete a piece. Ms Wong, who began making bentos in 2011, started her blog in 2012 primarily as a way to document her creations. Her dedication to the craft saw her doing much online research, reading bento cook books, and making regular trips to Japan to learn about sushi art.
She has clearly overcome newbie issues and bento-making has become more than just a hobby for her – her popular Facebook page has over 37,000 likes and her Instagram account has over to 230,000 followers. She has also authored two cookbooks – on how to make your own bento, of course.
Ms Carlyn Law
(Eat To Draw)
Look, it’s a whale! No, it’s really a sweet potato!
What about that one? A banana or a rocket ship blasting off?
Stay-at-home mum Carlyn Law, 40, cleverly reinterprets the seemingly simple ingredients she uses in everyday cooking into quirky drawings. She posts these works on the Eat To Draw Facebook page and Instagram account, where each of them is accompanied by a short narrative. Often times, she creates characters too – like Orlando the owl or Ollie the otter.
Drawing and painting – even for just five to 15 minutes in the midst of preparing meals for her 13-month-old – lets her imagination run wild, said Ms Law, who is a former food writer and public relations director. And she has now parlayed her hobby into classes that start from S$38 per session. She held her first Eat To Draw class during the June school holidays, and hopes to organise monthly classes in the future.
Her goal? Encourage “creative thinking and imagination through food and art”. She also thinks it’s a great way to introduce food to children “and have a chuckle”.
Ms Susanne Ng
Loving Creations 4 U (chiffon cake)
Ms Susanne Ng, 33, started baking chiffon cakes two and a half years ago for her family when she realised they contained less sugar than a regular butter cake. She immediately “fell in love” with the chiffon cake, she said.
The former biomedical engineering researcher then started “conducting experiments” and creating novel chiffon cakes that were then relatively new to the market. This all started when she noticed that cakes sold in shops were often too sweet, too heavy and usually covered in fondant or cream, while chiffon cakes were very plain looking and unexciting. This motivated her to get creative with chiffon, allowing her imagination to run wild and creating exciting patterns and shapes while ensuring the cake remains soft, fluffy and not sickeningly sweet.
Well, the chiffon cake is clearly a passion – one that she now earns an income from. A one-tier chiffon cake sells upwards of S$100 while a two-tier one sells upwards of S$200. Not only does she sell the cakes to family and friends, she has authored a best-selling book – it was a ST bestseller the week it was released in January this year, and the first print sold out within three months – on how to bake her cakes. Her second book on decorating these cakes will come out in October.
Ms Ng is best known for her rainbow chiffon cake, but her other chiffon cake creations have taken the form of a koala bear, a two-tier snowman with reindeer, and an Elsa doll. She documents much of her efforts in a blog called Loving Creations 4 U, which she runs with her friend, Ms Tan Phay Shing.
Ms Tan Phay Shing
Loving Creations 4 U (macarons)
Sharing the same blog, Ms Ng is the “chiffon cake lady” while Ms Tan Phay Shing, 36, is the macaron specialist. Also from a research background, Ms Tan transforms the usual round macaron – a sweet French meringue-based confection – into myriad interesting forms, including giraffes, hedgehogs, unicorns, pirates, bunnies, bears, and many more.
Ms Tan got into baking after being influenced by a food group she saw on social media, though she remained cautious about making cakes due to the sweetness. However, when she saw Ms Ng’s chiffon cakes, she was inspired and decided to try her hand at them. Since then, she has explored many creative avenues in baking but, creative macarons is the key area of her innovative work.
Her attention to the sweetness of her creations means that all her recipes have as low a sugar content as possible and she has even developed reduced-sugar options for the macaron shells. She does this by substituting some of the icing sugar with rice flour and reducing the amount of meringue used. Ms Tan also tries to use natural colouring wherever possible and the best ingredients she can get her hands on.
Like Ms Ng, her hobby has become a professional endeavour – she published a macaron baking book in March this year and also bakes to sell. Loose customised macarons are priced between S$4 and S$5 each, larger macarons for cake toppers are between S$7 and S$8 each, and her macaron carousels are between S$65 and S$70.
Additional reporting by Kathleen Bei.
Featured image by Little Miss Bento on Facebook.
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