When Samantha Lee cooks, kids eat. She is a Malaysian food artist who creates stories on a plate.
And it all began in the December of 2008. Samantha was pregnant with her second child. Her first born was 19 months old. The young mother’s biggest dilemma was how to get her older child to eat independently after her baby sister arrives since mommy would be busy with the newborn.
How do you make a child eat vegetables, rice, fish and other healthy foods that they usually hate — independently, voluntarily and happily? That’s asking for the moon on a platter. Well, Samantha didn’t ask for the moon. Instead, she created one — on a plate.
She began making beautiful food art that told captivating stories (Her first creation was a Hello Kitty food art). Her daughter was hooked. And to mommy’s delight, her two-year-old ate every last morsel on the plate. Food art made the kid look forward to every meal. It made eating and family dinners “so much more fun” in the Lee household.
Until August 2011, Samantha’s food art was a family affair. Then one day, she clicked a photo of her art-on-the-plate and Instagrammed it. Bingo!
Fans came in droves and soon Samantha’s hobby turned into a food-art series. Currently, she has around 730,000 followers — a number that keeps growing by the ‘plate’. And she’s working with some of the leading brands from across the globe. Till date, she’s created hundreds of food art.
Samantha’s art appears on the table either during lunch or dinner at least four times a week. “Can’t do more than that,” she quips.
Samantha is constantly thinking about things like “What ingredients should I use? How should I present it? Can I give a twist to the tale? How to reduce wastage?” She first sketches her ideas, which is based on the contents of her fridge. This way, she says, she is organized and “does not waste food. The aim is to keep it healthy, simple and avoid wastage.” She also holds the drawing in front of her when she cooks the food. Samantha uses scissors, knife, and toothpicks to create her food art.
|Michael Jackson. Ingredients: Onigiri, charcoal noodle, Nori, cheese and sesame seed for buttons
Her favourites? “Batman, Harry Potter, Wednesday Addam…and all my celebrity-food art.” Her most challenging work so far? “Michael Jackson,” she says. “He is the King of Pop. And there was tremendous pressure to get the essence of his spirit and a semblance of resemblance.” I think, she’s nailed it.
It takes Samantha around one to one-and-half hours to create an artwork. And that includes cooking the meal from scratch. She loves to work with rice, seaweed, and vegetables. Rice makes for a good base, while seaweed is used to add details and vegetables come handy to make outfits. And she has a “personal rule” that she follows while making food art — each and every plate should contain the three primary nutrients, carbohydrate, protein, and fibre. Samantha is a great believer in a balanced meal.
Her advice to young parents is this: “You don’t need to do this every day but do it when you want to introduce new types of food to your kid. Children are more resistant to unfamiliar ingredients, but when presented in a fun and cute way, they will be more open to it.” That’s sound advice.
Samantha, the self-confessed introvert, has never studied art or cooking before. She uses her imagination, sketches almost every day and watches a lot of cooking shows on the telly.
Though Samantha’s hard work results in fascinating art, it is ephemeral — gobbled up within minutes; disappearing into a dark hole. But that’s her prize, Samantha says. “The original purpose of food is to savour it. So I’m happy to see my daughters enjoy their food wholeheartedly.”
That’s burpy-love for you.
You can see some of her amazing work here