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