Par­ent­hood

Sammi Lim had the plea­sure of chat­ting with Sa­man­tha Lee, a food artist whose breath­tak­ing cre­ations jus­tify play­ing with your food

Time Out Malaysia Kids - - Contents -

Get them eat­ing their greens: Food art could be the an­swer to your prayers. Plus, Ask Mum & Dad.

Can a chef be deemed an artist? Sa­man­tha Lee, a Malaysian mother, is most cer­tainly is a mélange of the two. Us­ing car­rots and peas in lieu of paint or clay, Lee turns co­mestibles into car­toon char­ac­ters, cute crit­ters and other colour­ful cre­ations.

Lee has been cre­at­ing food art for her daugh­ters, her two big­gest fans, for al­most seven years. How­ever, it wasn’t un­til her Instagram ac­count caught the eye of the in­ter­na­tional me­dia in 2013 that her art went vi­ral. Since then, she has col­lab­o­rated with and cre­ated food art for pow­er­house or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Na­tional Geo­graphic, Sam­sung, MasterCard, AIA, Bar­bie, Ben & Jerry’s, Wall’s ice cream and Susta­gen, to name a few.

We love Lee’s craft for (lit­er­ally) pro­vid­ing us with food for thought about jazz­ing up kids’ meals. When we spoke with her, she as­sured us that food art, while not en­tirely fuss-free, is no rocket science ei­ther, and that you don’t need school­ing in art or snazzy gad­gets to cre­ate strik­ing meals.

Good to meet you, Sa­man­tha. How are the girls? Evana and El­iz­a­beth, if I’m not mis­taken?

Yes! Evana just turned six and El­iz­a­beth is go­ing to turn eight soon.

Do you have sib­lings?

I have a brother who’s a year younger.

Was he your guinea pig with your first kitchen ex­per­i­ments?

I made him Maggi Mee, if that counts!

What was your ear­li­est ex­po­sure to cooking?

I learnt to cook from my Chi­nese house­maid. We were very close. I would watch her in the kitchen and help with child­ish chores like chop­ping gar­lic. I was very young – only six or seven years old.

Did you pur­sue art at school or col­lege? You have a keen eye for aes­thetics.

Nooo... ( Laughs) I only learned art in Ke­las Luk­isan! But I’m very per­cep­tive to colours.

Plat­ing your cre­ations ap­pears to be a highly chro­matic process. Have you found foods for ev­ery colour of the rain­bow?

I pretty much have it all in my head. The hard­est colour to find is pink, which is why I never use pink in my cre­ations. I’ll tell you a se­cret: The same veg­etable can dif­fer in colour depend­ing on whether you buy the or­ganic or non-or­ganic ver­sions. Or­ganic veg­eta­bles turn much darker af­ter be­ing cooked.

Do you spend a lot of time in su­per­mar­kets scout­ing out in­gre­di­ents?

I do pick up gro­ceries both for work and to feed my fam­ily at least four to five days a

week.

When you do take a break from the kitchen and eat out, what’s your all-time favourite Malaysian dish to get?

Bak ku teh – I’m from Klang! – and Hokkien noodles.

You first started cre­at­ing fun food art to whet El­iz­a­beth’s ap­petite. What was her big­gest qualm about eat­ing?

She wasn’t ex­actly a fussy eater, but she was very slow. She would talk to you, look else­where or for­get to chew in be­tween bites of food. I thought that if she loved her food, she would be a more en­thu­si­as­tic eater.

I bet your food art makes the girls quite popular at school!

My elab­o­rate meals are ac­tu­ally served at home. I do pack snacks for my girls, but only fruit, since I want them to eat the same meals as their friends. I don’t want other kids experiencing feel­ings of ri­valry and run­ning home to their moms ask­ing for the same meals, be­cause I un­der­stand that most par­ents are work­ing par­ents.

That’s re­ally nice of you to con­sider that. You’re the only food artist I know who ar­ranges her de­signs on plates in­stead of bento boxes.

I used to buy spe­cialised bento kits and tools in the first two months I got into food art. Then I re­alised I didn’t know how to use them. So I started plat­ing my meals, which makes it eas­ier to es­ti­mate por­tion sizes. We shouldn’t waste food, which is why I al­ways sketch my de­signs prior.

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