Fatema Qureshi is a food artist par excellence. Qureshi likes to tinker with shapes and objects using any food item in her kitchen. From edible chocolate cup and saucer to mango roses, dessert that resembles an avocado and a strawberry bouquet cake, her foods look as appealing as they are appetising.
Qureshi’s artistic presentations are part of an old tradition of cuisine aesthetics around the world that helps to enhance the sensory experience of food.
‘‘I create attractive visual displays with food. I love to disguise it by presenting it in artistic ways that you would not know what it is until you taste it,’’ Qureshi tells BD Life.
Food aesthetics is achieved not only through how it is served, but right from the preparation and cooking, presentation and consumption.
Restaurants invest a fortune to decorate their interior and to buy state-of-the-art cutlery to enhance the environment of food for their customers. Thai Chi, the Thai cuisine restaurant at the Sarova Stanley in Nairobi, for instance, is a wonder, the counter a glorious splendour of carved fruits, edible roots, nuts, spices and vegetables done by its chefs to showcase the magnificence of Thai food.
If the rest of the world likes food decorations, the Oriental world definitely sets the bar higher, going all out to garnish food in the most creative, and sometimes unusual, designs. Thai, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Korean cuisines are arguably the yardstick of food art.
Food psychologists argue that a beautifully set table featuring food art whets the appetite of diners long before the meal has been served to them.
Award-winning food journalist, dietitian and author Matthew Kadey observes that ‘‘food seems healthier and natural’’ when it is presented in a manner that features classical aesthetic principles of order, symmetry and balance. It also comes off as worth spending more money on.
Have you ever wondered why food courts publish photos of luscious-looking burgers, chips and steak on billboards and on Instagram? Sometimes even when the actual food is not as attractive or as tasty?
In marketing materials, particularly on social media, food beauty is used to style food ‘‘to look especially appetising’’ which then stimulates the brain’s reward system. You are likely to try out a restaurant based on their food photos, the pricing notwithstanding.
But food art is not merely about styling cakes into human forms or to carve melons into flowers. It is also about how drinks are served.
Realising the need to stand out in their work amid growing competition, bartenders too garnish their drinks with various eye-pleasing items to attract their patrons. This is especially so with cocktails where a bartender throws in several leaves of a special spice or a barista creates a dramatic design on your mocha before serving it.
Besides food art, Qureshi practices quilling. Also called paper filigree, this is a technique where strips of paper are ‘‘rolled, looped, twisted, curled and manipulated’’ and glued together to create coils and scrolls that are then used to make ornamental designs.
This form of art has been around for about 500 years, and Qureshi is one of only a handful of artists in the country who make objects out of them.
Like quilling, which is highly expressive and ‘‘allows the artist to bring out their imaginativeness and intricacy’’ food art requires patience and precision.
While it is a time-consuming form of art, experienced creatives such as her spend only a few minutes to develop the different designs from food.