Pirooz pursues art of food carving PDF   E-mail
Written by By KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor   
Thursday, 03 April 2008
Deb Pirooz with one of her fruit carvings. (J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Deb Pirooz is a student of “Garde mange,” the Art of Making Food Beautiful.
The owner of Ben’s Table regularly puts in 60-hour work weeks at her Bowling Green restaurant that opened on South Main Street in May 2004. Even so, she still doesn’t get enough of working with food.
“I saw my first carvings at a food show and I thought ‘I want to do that!’” Pirooz said of her two-year-old hobby of artistic carving of fruits and vegetables.
She’s self taught, picking up much of her knowledge from such Internet Web sites as
chefgarnish.com and the Web site of The Carving Institute in Taiwan.
According to Pirooz, “the art of fruit and vegetable carving — kae-sa-lak in Thai — is performed in Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and China.” But Thai culinary carving is renowned as the most refined in the world.
It originated in the 1600s and was done for Taiwanese royalty by women serving at the court.
Considered one of the 10 traditional Thai crafts, fruit and vegetable carving “is an ancient art” still used in making food offerings for monks, entertaining guests, ordinations, weddings, and royal funerals.
“It’s really gaining popularity in the United States and there are even schools in California and Massachussetts, run by people from Asia.”
Pirooz has gotten so good at it that she has done carvings for baby and bridal showers, weddings, business meetings (including carved corporate logos) “and once in a while, when melons are in season, I do something for the restaurant.”
Her personal favorite is watermelon carving.
Now, we are not talking about your mother’s watermelon basket, here, folks — although she can turn out a gorgeous basket if she wants to.
Rather, these are very intricately carved watermelons that can resemble dizzying floral or snowflake patterns with seven, eight or nine layers running across the top two-thirds of the watermelon.
“With watermelons selling for $8 or $10 apiece I’ve made some expensive mistakes” while practicing the craft, “but you get to eat what you break.”
She purchased a collection of five different carving knives, from Thailand. Her collection of tools also includes 10 scoopers of different sizes which are called V-cutters and serrated cutters.
Still, the beginner doesn’t need more than a good, sharp paring knife, Pirooz says. In time, she can graduate to knives with double edged blades, curved blades, gouges and cookie cutters.
It may sound a little dangerous, but “I’ve gotten more wounds from the skewers and the toothpicks” used to hold the pieces of her carvings together “than I’ve ever gotten from the knives,” says Pirooz, a Toledo native who moved to Bowling Green in 1983 “when we opened Godfreys,” an earlier restaurant on South Main.
She enjoyed drawing and painting in high school but has discovered “it’s more fun with fruit. The color palette is more vivid” and exciting, said Pirooz.
Last year she displayed both fruit and vegetable carvings during the Woodland Mall’s Foodways Culinary Expo. She also did a stage demonstration. “I carved a swan out of honeydew and showed them how to make the flowers.”
She will again have a display table at the 2008 Foodways Expo, slated for Sunday from noon until 5 p.m.
“I think people eat with their eyes before they taste it,” Pirooz concluded. With her edible carvings, she’s out to prove it.

ImageBullwinkle the moose
1 sweet potato
2 radishes
2 stalks ginger
2 black quilting pins
Start by choosing a firm sweet potato that has one end pointing upward a bit for his nose. Choose ginger stalks that resemble antlers. Push toothpicks into potato on either side where antlers should go. Push ginger into the other end of the toothpicks. Always push toothpick into the harder fruit or vegetable first, otherwise it will break. The trick is to hide the toothpicks; you don’t want to see them.
Using another toothpick, attach one radish to end of potato to form nose. Cut the second radish in half to form the eyes. Use quilting pins to attach each radish half to the potato. The pins become the pupils.

ImageHawaiian bouquet
3-5 red or orange chiles
2-4 red peppers
2-4 baby corn or carrots
green onions
wooden skewers
2 black quilting pins
1 butternut squash
Bouquet will include freesia, antherium blooms and a hummingbird.
To make freesias, cut red and/or orange chiles from the stem end outward, in strips. Pop the chiles into ice water for about three hours so they will curl back and look gorgeous.
The stems are wooden skewers covered with green onion.
To create antherium, carve red peppers hand. Attach a small baby corn to the center of the flower with a tookpick. A sharpened piece of carrot is an acceptable alternative.
To create the hummingbird, use a chile pepper with the stem end becoming the beak. Poke two black quilting pins in for the eyes. The bird’s wings are the ends of leeks or pineapple. Cut two slits in the sides of the pepper and push the “wings” in.
The vase for the flowers is a butternut squash, cut like a staircase inside so the skewered “flowers” are at different heights.
• To make cattails, take baby carrots and roll them in cinnamon.
• Carved turnips work well as white roses and white mums.

Tips for carving fruits and vegetables

• Before carving, fruits and vegetables must be washed and cleaned thoroughly.
• Use knives with stainless steel or bronze blades. Ordinary steel blades will cause discoloration of fruits and vegetables.
• Do not carve excessively. You want to avoid waste and loss of nutritional value. Find creative ways to use extra leftover pieces. They can be made into flowers or other cute garnishes.
• Fruits and vegetables chosen for carving should be resistant to wilting, such as carrots and Chinese radishes.
• Keep them hydrated (in water) and keep them cold. Fruits such as watermelon and cantaloupe will sour quickly. Serve them on a bed of ice, covered with colored kale or leaf lettuce.
• If watermelon is to be consumed, serve it within 3-4 hours. If it is just for appearance, preserve the carving by covering with damp paper towel and plastic wrap. It can be saved 3-4 days.
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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 May 2008 )
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