martedì 7 giugno 2011

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Edible artistry in fruit and vegetable carving

Most maintain that this art originated in Thailand,during the 14th century.  The Loi Kratong festival involves individually decorated rafts  using many objects.  In 1364, Nang Noppamart, a servant of King Phra Ruang, carved both a flower and a bird from vegetables for decorating her raft, which impressed the king so much that he decreed all women should be taught to do this, though interest in the art diminished over centuries.

How many times have you looked on in delighted wonder at the artistic way in which a buffet has been presented by an attentive chef?  The salmon  in flight against the waterfall makes a stunning, edible centerpiece to a real feast, not to mention the floral displays carved from everyday  things like carrots , tomatoes and melons. The wonder of such displays is not merely in the time it must have taken to prepare, but also the amazing attention to detail.
Art comes in many forms, and perhaps one of the most decorative is the often exquisite work of those who practice fruit and vegetable carving.  Some believe that his type of artistic expression can trace its roots back to the Chinese Tang Dynasty of 618-906 AD  when the decorative garnishing of food began to become widespread throughout China, while others maintain that it originated in Thailand 700 years ago, or else in Japan around the same time.
Mukimono, as this art is called in Japanese, is said to have roots in ancient times when ounglazed clay pottery was in use. Since these crude crockery items were so unattractive in themselves, chefs concluded that the artistic use of leaves as decoration made for a more attractive presentation. It was the 16th century Edo period before Mukimono was officially recognized, after which street artists created clever garnishes upon request.
Even so, the knowledge of the art form did get passed on through succeeding generations, and those techniques were closely guarded by those who became experts, and their knowledge on. Despite the fact of food garnishing techniques becoming ever more refined, it was only in the last few decades that fruit and vegetable carving came to public attention again.  This art form had been mentioned mentioned in the poetry of King Rama II (1808-1824),who wrote about the beauty of it in decorating Thai desserts.
The revolution in 1932 in Thailand resulted in the art becoming less popular., and people set up courses to train everyone in Thailand how it should be done. Taught in modern schools from the age of 11, in university, it is now optional, though the training is being passed to foreign people, the art now practiced all over the world, and a special favorite of chefs wanting to enhance food presentation.

Nobody expects to attend a function these days where the presentation of the food is anything less than decorative, and perhaps the reason for the popularity gained by the artistic carving of decorative foods may be found, not only in the affluence of present day society, but also in the need to demonstrate that national identity can have many faces. As the cuisine of the western world gains a foothold in the Asian countries, so the garnishing of national dishes becomes ever more multi-faceted.
What takes one’s breath away the most is the simply staggering range of ways in which these artistic  people present their intricate and often quite stunning works. So impressive are they that it seems difficult to reconcile the need to consume them whilst fresh with the destruction of art that such consumption entails. The answer has to be, of course that they be photographed for posterity, but still one cannot help be feel a certain poignancy about the loss.  Edible art is sometimes hard to swallow, but always fantastic to look at.


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