Ja­pan’s ‘fake food’ more ap­pe­tiz­ing than the orig­i­nal

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

They may look good enough to eat, but Ja­pan’s mouth­wa­ter­ing food repli­cas are only for show as restau­ra­teurs com­pete for the at­ten­tion of hun­gry cus­tomers. They’re com­mon sights in this food-ob­sessed na­tion, with ev­ery­thing from sudsy beers and per­fectly glazed sushi to ham­burg­ers and deep-fried pork cut­lets, known as tonkatsu, on dis­play.

Mak­ing fake food is a craft that Noriyuki Mishima has spent the last six decades per­fect­ing. “I haven’t counted but I must have made tens of thou­sands of these dishes,” said the 79-year-old, as he painted a plas­tic roast of beef. “The tough­est thing is prob­a­bly get­ting the color right.” There are no com­plex ma­chines or special tools at Hatanaka, an eight-per­son firm in a Tokyo sub­urb where veter­ans like Mishima see them­selves as artists. It’s just sim­ple cut­ting tools, paint brushes, air­brush guns, and dry­ing ovens at the lit­tle com­pany with a “Fake Food Hatanaka” sign out front.

They don’t use wax any­more-it’s durable sil­i­cone these days-but the prac­tice has oth­er­wise changed lit­tle since the first repli­cas were made in Ja­pan about a cen­tury ago. Dur­ing the early 1920s, artists pro­duc­ing models of hu­man or­gans for doc­tors, were ap­proached by restau­rants to do the same thing for the food they wanted to sell. The idea spread rapidly as eat­ing out soared in pop­u­lar­ity and ru­ral peo­ple flocked to the ci­ties. Un­used to what city restau­rants had to of­fer, the models gave coun­try dwellers and lo­cals alike a quick vis­ual run­down of the chef ’s specialities.

They’re also a handy point-and-or­der op­tion for for­eign tourists in a coun­try where most menus are in Ja­panese only. “Photos don’t re­ally give a sense of vol­ume-the repli­cas are the ac­tual size so cus­tomers know im­me­di­ately when they go into a restau­rant what to ex­pect, even be­fore they’re served,” said Nori­hito Hatanaka, who runs the fam­ily com­pany which was founded in the mid-six­ties.

Hatanaka doesn’t worry much about new tech­nolo­gies, such as 3-D print­ers, tak­ing over the food replica busi­ness. “3-D print­ers can­not recre­ate an artist’s touch and it would ul­ti­mately be more ex­pen­sive be­cause the ma­te­ri­als are pricey and you’d still have to keep paint­ing them,” he says. “It’s a job for hu­mans who have the cre­ativ­ity that ma­chines lack. They don’t know what is beau­ti­ful and ap­pe­tiz­ing.”

For vet­eran Mishima some the hard­est work is re­pro­duc­ing raw prod­ucts like sushi. “When it’s grilled fish, the char­ac­ter­is­tic col­ors are eas­ier to recre­ate,” he said. “But cre­at­ing the color of fresh­ness-that’s tough.” Any food can be recreated from a sil­i­cone mold, whether it’s a spongy cake or siz­zling ham­burger. Each bit-bun, meat, tomato, cheese-is made sep­a­rately be­fore they’re painted and as­sem­bled piece by piece. The last step is a coat of varnish to give food a glis­ten­ing look sure to catch the eye of peck­ish passers-by. But repli­cas don’t come cheap. A sin­gle dish can cost sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars, so some restau­rants rent food model sets by the month for up­wards of 6,000 yen ($50).

Ba­con head­bands

Tak­izo Iwasaki - whose epony­mous firm con­trols about half the mar­ket in Ja­pan-is widely cred­ited for turn­ing faux food into what is now a $90 mil­lion busi­ness. It’s not a growth in­dus­try, though. High-end restau­rants shun the idea of plas­tic repli­cas to dis­play their dishes, and the idea hasn’t caught on much out­side Ja­pan. But Mishima and his col­leagues-three twenty-some­thing women-don’t think repli­cas are go­ing to fade into culi­nary his­tory just yet. “It’s been a child­hood dream to make this fake food,” said em­ployee Asumi Shi­modaira, as she worked on a plate of ined­i­ble ravi­oli. For com­pany pres­i­dent Hatanaka, it’s the ac­tion models-like a spaghetti-wrapped fork sus­pended in air-that are his fa­vorite.

But the firm isn’t con­tent to stick to old recipes. It is push­ing into new lines like fake food fash­ion ac­ces­sories, such as fruit ear­rings, fried egg rings, and ba­con slice head­bands. They also make pieces for those look­ing for unique footwear, or fun win­dow dis­plays. One pair of boots, cov­ered in plas­tic toast and drip­ping with fake ice cream and fruit sauce, can sell for 36,000 yen. “We’re not sat­is­fied just tak­ing the or­ders from restau­rants,” Hatanaka said. “We like to make orig­i­nal cre­ations too.” —AFP

TOKYO: Photo shows plas­tic straw­berry ear­rings made at the stu­dio of Fake Food Hatanaka in Toko­rozawa, a sub­urb of Tokyo. In ad­di­tion to its sta­ple of mak­ing fake food the com­pany is push­ing into new lines like fake food fash­ion ac­ces­sories, such as fruit ear­rings, fried egg rings, and ba­con slice head­bands. —AFP

TOKYO: Photo shows plas­tic ham­burger ear­rings made at the stu­dio of Fake Food Hatanaka in Toko­rozawa, a sub­urb of Tokyo. —AFP photos

TOKYO: Nori­hito Hatanaka, pres­i­dent of Fake Food Hatanaka, in­tro­duces plas­tic food dishes at his com­pany’s stu­dio in Toko­rozawa, a sub­urb of Tokyo.

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