A food painter’s fresh takes

The Georgia Straight - - Richmond World Fest - > BY TAMMY KWAN

Have you ever won­dered what the sky would taste like if it could be eaten?

For those who love art and food, this year’s Taiwanfest has im­ported a food painter from Ja­pan to tickle at­ten­dees’ culi­nary senses.

One of the pro­grams at this fam­ily-friendly ex­trav­a­ganza is the Kitchen of Sweet­ness—a talk and work­shop led by Ja­panese chef and food painter Yui Aida.

Aida stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture in her na­tive land be­fore ex­plor­ing the culi­nary sphere, trav­el­ling to dif­fer­ent coun­tries to find and taste lo­cally farmed pro­duce and in­gre­di­ents.

But what does it mean to be a food painter?

“It means draw­ing a theme us­ing foods on a dish,” Aida told the Ge­or­gia Straight by phone. “I didn’t name my­self as a food painter, but when I was do­ing what I thought was in­ter­est­ing, that ti­tle be­came at­tached to me.”

Her trav­els of­ten spark her cre­ativ­ity, en­abling her to cre­ate food paint­ings that have be­come very pop­u­lar in Tai­wan.

“I’ve trav­elled not only to other coun­tries that are far from Ja­pan, but also to [closer des­ti­na­tions] such as a park near my house,” Aida said. “I live in Tokyo, and the sea and the sky that I see dur­ing jog­ging and do­ing home gar­den­ing in­spire my imag­i­na­tion.”

Most of her cre­ations are desserts made with edi­ble dé­cor that mim­ics the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment—think a pot­ted plant, stones, soil, and mush­rooms.

Aida con­stantly ques­tions her sur­round­ings by pon­der­ing how cer­tain things would taste if they could be con­sumed. What would be the flavour of a bloom­ing flower? What would the sea or the sun be like to eat? She pushes the bound­aries of dessert-mak­ing, re­sult­ing in unique cre­ations and recipes.

But don’t ex­pect clas­sic sweets that could be found at a lo­cal pas­try shop.

“I make sweets with sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and fruits [and] with­out eggs

and dairy prod­ucts,” Aida ex­plained.

The Ja­panese food painter en­joys us­ing in­gre­di­ents with nat­u­ral, bright colours—es­pe­cially veg­eta­bles and fruits high in nat­u­ral sug­ars—to make desserts that are both beau­ti­ful and de­li­cious.

“When think­ing about sweets, I think peo­ple imag­ine very sweet cakes and cook­ies,” Aida noted. “My sweets bring out the taste of the sweet­ness of the in­gre­di­ents them­selves, so I only need to use a small amount of su­gar.”

She said that in the month that she’s been in Van­cou­ver, she’s made many dis­cov­er­ies, par­tic­u­larly at farm­ers mar­kets. “It was shock­ing to me that the veg­eta­bles and fruits were very de­li­cious,” she stated. “The taste of them is con­densed and fresh.”

Vis­i­tors who at­tend her pro­gram at Taiwanfest will be in for a treat: Aida will pre­pare five dif­fer­ent items that re­volve around a nat­u­ral theme.

“I will ex­press na­ture that ev­ery­one knows with sweets,” she added. “This in­cludes a food in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the sea, the sky, and the sun. It’s

not only ap­pear­ance, it is also na­ture cap­tured by the five senses.”

Vis­i­tors will be able to de­light their taste buds with a “sky dish”: dou fa (Tai­wanese pud­ding) made with soy milk. An­other dish, “the sea”, will be made with but­ter­fly pea tea (but­ter­fly pea is a plant from South­east Asia) paired with lemon juice.

“I think that sweets and food [are] the com­mon com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool all over the world, and it will en­rich the usual life of peo­ple,” Aida said. “I am happy if the world of peo­ple who ate what I made can be ex­panded, even if just a lit­tle. I hope to have a good time by shar­ing my food with ev­ery­one.”

Taiwanfest takes place from Satur­day to Mon­day (Septem­ber 2 to 4) on Granville Street and at other down­town venues. Among the events is the In­ter­na­tional pan-asian Culi­nary In­vi­ta­tional fea­tur­ing chefs from Canada and Tai­wan try­ing to cre­ate the best pan-asian dish at Rob­son Plaza on Satur­day and Sun­day.

Draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from her sur­round­ings, Ja­panese chef Yui Aida cre­ates desserts made with veg­eta­bles and fruits that re­sem­ble el­e­ments from na­ture.

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