Edible Art | James Parker’s Incredible Faux Floral Arrangements

Edible Art | James Parker’s Incredible Faux Floral Arrangements

By Sue Shuman
Journal staff writer
The Fairfax Journal June 3,1998

Ever been to a party where the floral arrangement looked good enough to eat? Then been surprised to learn that it can be eaten?
James R. Parker, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner in Fairfax, Va., transforms vegetables and fruits into floral arrangements both simple and fancy. They become part of the buffet.
Most of Parker’s displays are so ornate, however, like the one shown here, that people don’t dare nibble. They are works of art and recognized as such.
The work shown here took about 11 hours to make, he estimates, and was used on the buffet table at a Thai-themed event. The feathery fronds on the sides and back are tea leaves from a florist’s shop, he said. He sliced long rows along the natural lines of the leaf to create the feather.
Parker’s been transforming food into flowers for about five years. It’s not a book –learned thing. He says he learns much just from watching others in the kitchen.
At any time of the year, but especially now when graduations, weddings and other celebrations are on many social calendars, these step-by-step guides to creating your own “flowers” could come in handy for your table.
Parker makes it all look easy. A snip here, a cut there, and he’s transformed a piece of endive in to a wispy, two-toned flower.
The trick is to use fresh vegetables. “And you want to use the natural color as much as possible,” Parker explained.
Parker has cut off-white daikon radish, however, and then soaked it in 1 cup of red food coloring and water for an extraordinary effect.
Some fruits are easier to work with than others, he said. In the easy category are green and red peppers, green onion, and red and green endive. An onion is harder but the unfurled layers can become a dazzling flower.
Cucumbers and carrots can be made into buds. A thin strip of red pepper in the center becomes the stamen. Use toothpicks or skewers to anchor things as needed.
A chef who carves vegetables and fruits into flowers also notices things that another cook may not. For example, Parker uses only red and green peppers that are three-sided, not four at the base.
“Domestic ones are usually four,” he said. “With three, you get better symmetry.” The ones he used to demonstrate his craft were grown in the Netherlands.
Some vegetables- But not peppers and cucumbers- can be prepared a day in advance and then left to soak from 20 minutes to an hour in the cold or iced water, which helps shape them. Refrigeration is needed once they are cut and until display time. Some vegetables and fruits discolor easily.
But anyone can halve a cantaloupe and fill it with assorted berries for a simple arrangement on a buffet table. Or cut an orange into a start shape, as demonstrated in the photos, to add interest to a brunch or luncheon.
The basic tools of the trade are few: a cutting board, a paring knife, a peeler and a kitchen chisel, if you have one.
Shown here are some examples to get you started. As Parker says, “ be creative.”
“And if one ‘petal’ is larger than another or things are not even, don’t worry,” he adds, “in nature, they aren’t perfect, either.”

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