Just as a painter meticulously selects the color palette that they apply to their canvas, food artists go grocery shopping to source the tools that they'll create with. Less glamorous, maybe, but no less important – and it's led to wholesale produce markets around the world being visited by a new sort of customer. In these spaces usually filled with chefs, who spend most of their days prepping at a countertop, or commercial caterers looking to feed a few hundred people, for this new generation of experiential food artists, the ingredients are everything, too.
Today, we're seeing artists working with food everywhere. We meet three modern artists who are shifting the scene.
Replicating the drama of tiered confectionery displays normally reserved for weddings, coconut-covered lamingtons are stacked on stands draped with white fabric inside a Melbourne art gallery. This is an installation by Australian food artist Simone Jude and, although it could be part of the exhibition it sits alongside, they're simply the snacks for the closing party of a show. ‘I baked that tower of 300 lamingtons all by myself,’ she says. ‘People looked at me like I was either some mad woman or a superwoman. Either way, they saw only the finished result and had only the faintest idea of how much planning and baking went into it,’ says Simone, whose work includes delicate fish roe-topped eggs, cucumber-boat canapés and tablescapes of draped grapes for clients across the worlds of art and fashion.
‘I started out cooking for friends and family, inviting people into my home. It evolved into regular dinner parties, often themed according to the seasons. That was four years ago and, today, people hire me to host. What was originally a passion for cooking has evolved into completely curating a dining experience,’ she says.
‘I'm guided not only by the taste of produce but also by [its] aesthetics – I love nothing more than celebrating [its] beauty,’ she adds, before touching on how she approaches her client briefs. ‘I hope to infiltrate the art world a little more, use food as the medium to provide not only a bite to eat but a spectacle. I wish to push the boundaries of the aesthetics of food more and be a little more excessive and fanciful.’
‘I hope to infiltrate the art world a little more, use food as the medium to provide not only a bite to eat but a spectacle.’
Amy Yip creates cakes that look like living things. With fresh flowers for height and carved fruits, she's honed her sculptural style since she first launched her business, Yip.Studio, four years ago. Amy worked as a textile designer for six years and started to make cakes for friends and family during the Covid-19 lockdown when she was stuck at home. ‘It was also a way for me to stay connected to my family while they were so far away. I made every single mistake possible,’ says Amy. ‘My parents are bakers, so I grew up in the hospitality world. I saw how hard the work was, so I didn't want to do what they were doing.’
A year ago, she quit her design job and focused on growing Yip.Studio full time. ‘The endless possibilities: visual, taste, touch, smell. It's a visual expression that transcends just the visual aspect because you get to consume it. I do love how food is temporary.’ Amy says she looks to fashion, furniture and the natural world as sources of inspiration: ‘I'm really interested in doing more installation work for more art, fashion or design contexts. I'm hoping to have the resources to produce something on a larger scale and be able to think more about lighting, composition and weight – all these different elements that transcend the realm of a typical cake.’
‘I didn't grow up in a family that was interested in food, so I taught myself to cook. Originally, I wanted to work in publishing or take over my mother's bookshop,’ says Zélikha Dinga, a Parisian chef and caterer whose work includes surreal sandwiches inside a sandwich, pumpkin risotto served inside a pumpkin and hand-carved ostrich eggs filled with tiny potatoes. She started her cooking career after moving from Paris to London and working at BAO, a Taiwanese restaurant in London's Soho, as a prep cook. ‘Working with those [large] quantities was amazing to learn from when I was just starting out,’ she says. ‘When I moved back to Paris, I didn't want to stay in restaurants and I worked as a private chef. Everything came little by little. I went from that to baking cookies for my friends to catering and creating experiences for brand events,’ she says from a hotel room in Italy, where she's working on an event for a client.
‘It's rare that brands approach me without a brief. Fashion brands want things inspired by their collection, others want a mood and some want things inspired by a color or time period. I look at everything from paintings to Instagram feeds,’ she says when asked where she draws inspiration from. ‘It's also seasonal, so I'm not pitching strawberries in winter. I like being restrained by the seasons – we try to get the best out of every product. I like to subvert how things are used and integrate it into the experience,’ she says. ‘A painter's tools might be a brush or a pencil but, alongside the food, I can partner with a ceramicist or set designer to create the full experience.’