I Never Thought I Was Artistic Until I Realized I Could Make Food Look Beautiful

At first, I didn't view food as art, but as I looked at the brightly colored vegetables in front of me, I saw a canvas.
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Erika Y. Gradecki
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At first, I didn't view food as art, but as I looked at the brightly colored vegetables in front of me, I saw a canvas.

I've been terrible at art — painting, sculpting, drawing, etc. — my entire life. I'm lucky if I can draw a stick figure, and most of my scribbles look like a kindergartner drew them.

I drew this today.

I drew this today.

Despite the guarantee that I'm not the next da Vinci, I have always been fascinated by color, designs, and patterns and how they could combine to make something beautiful. Growing up, I often dreaded going to the art classes we had to take in school, but it wasn't because I hated them; it's just that having to create anything artistic always took me forever to complete, and I never thought it was good enough.

I remember, back in middle school, we had an assignment where we had to paint an object within a landscape background. It could be anything but people or animals. I decided on a beautiful flower arrangement in a vase sitting in a window because it was colorful and vibrant. There were roses, daffodils, and lilies that were red, pink, and yellow, with a splash of blue. 

Ugh, what a dumb idea.

I worked hours and hours on it, staying up until 2 a.m. at home, trying to have it finished by the next day's deadline. I hated it. I just couldn't get the knack of getting the intricate lines and the right colors mixed properly. I remember using toothpicks for the really fine details of the flowers, since using a thin paintbrush was frustrating, and I couldn't seem to hold the brush without shaking nervously. 

As I got older, I realized art wasn't my niche. I did, however, have a need to express myself. There had to be some kind of creative outlet that was right for me, I thought. Writing became one way, but I wanted to add color in there somewhere.

At first, I didn't view food as art, but as something I enjoyed. Experimenting in Mom's kitchen around age 12, I saw it as just fun, interesting, and therapeutic. It gave me a sense of calm, as I could just focus on the ingredients, let them dance together in the pot, and end up with something delicious. To me, I didn't have to concentrate so hard on making it look perfect or be up all night long to get it done. It just needed to taste good and be filling.


I spent quite a number of years working in the food industry — everything from bussing tables and waitressing to making salads and sandwiches and multi-course meals. I never took food as a serious means of artistic expression until a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to "make something pretty."

At the time, I was working for a catering company and was not only the newbie, but also the only female assistant chef working the events. Prior to that, I dabbled in creating presentation-type displays, like cheese platters and hors d'oeuvres plates, but nothing major. I usually partnered up with someone or added a small component to the mix for serving. 

This time, though, I was asked if I wanted to put together a veggie platter, and I had the freedom to do with it as I pleased. Since the guys weren't too thrilled about making platters, I happily obliged.

As I looked at the brightly colored vegetables — red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, and radishes — I saw a canvas in front of me. I could see what colors complement and balance each other. The red peppers can sit next to the cauliflower, the carrots opposite the celery. The magenta and white radishes could be dotted throughout the platter to make the other colors pop. 

Purple kale stump garnish on a fruit platter.

Purple kale stump garnish on a fruit platter.


This continued with other preparations, from cheese and fruit platters to food displays and the garnishes for hors d'oeuvres. I was the go-to girl in these departments, and I used any and everything I could get my hands on — fruits, veggies, and even flowers. 

I would come up with something different each and every time, even using parts of food no one would consider "beautiful," like the stump of a romaine lettuce bunch or the leaves of a pineapple. The food scraps, peels, and stumps could all be utilized because of their funky shapes or lovely hues. I started seeing the beautiful colors food had to offer and how I could pair them with the parts that either weren't eaten or were simply considered trash.

Romaine stump dipped in maraschino cherry juice with flower components.

Romaine stump dipped in maraschino cherry juice with flower components.

I had finally found my artistic calling, which was right in front of my face the whole time. 

I never realized how versatile food could be, and how natural it was for me to create something so artistic from scratch. I might not be good in the traditional, formal art world, but at least I've found another way to express myself.