Bite-sized and beautiful

Shirali Patel’s artwork looks good enough to eat

Published - July 23, 2015 08:24 pm IST - Coimbatore

Shirali Patel's designs

Shirali Patel's designs

My cousin Harini introduced me to a whole other delectable world of food that’s inedible! I am talking about miniature food creations made by Shirali Patel who lives in Ahmedabad. She is a miniaturist and creates tiny morsels using polymer clay. These, she then attaches to pen drives, jewellery, bookmarks and so on. Her creations are unbelievably accurate. She doesn’t miss the tiniest detail. The banana is ripened just so, the kebabs have the right amount of char on them, the cookies look golden and about to crumble… it is difficult not to nibble a little bit more from the edge of a popsicle…

My daughter and I fell in love when we first set our eyes on Shirali’s pancakes! They were stacked perfectly, with melting butter on them and the fresh blueberries placed deftly on the top. And, all of that was smothered with honeyed maple syrup that trickled and ended in a little drop.

Shirali trained in pottery making at Raheja Arts College in Mumbai. It was on a trip to Bangkok that she spotted food magnets that looked so very real. Thai food with its tiny prawns and tropical fruits were so lifelike. That is what set her on the path to doing what she does.

In 2011 she first experimented with creating food out of polymer clay. Shirali says that this clay is a versatile medium to work with. It very easily takes on the appearance of wood, stone, semi-precious stones, etc. It is expensive but the results are well worth the cost. The art on the pen drives is elaborate. There are chopping boards with a variety of produce on them, a box of macaroons and so much more.

With her experience, Shirali says, she takes about 20 minutes to create the simpler pieces and around three hours for the more complicated ones. She puts in 10 to 12 hours in her studio. It is her haven, declares Shirali. She has a worktable, a fridge, an entertainment unit and anything else that will make her comfortable. She laughs that half her kitchen finds its way to her studio. If she’s making a beetroot for example, she always has a real one on her table, just so she doesn't miss out on the finer details. Her objective is to make her miniatures as realistic as possible.

Shirali prefers to work in batches. She concentrates only on croissants one day, muffins on the next, pizzas on the day after and so on.

The polymer clay comes in red, blue, yellow, black and white. She mixes and matches these in different proportions and creates countless other colours. She documents the recipes of each of these colours for future reference. To replicate something that nature has created requires so much precision and thought. She says the first cupcake she made took her all of 40 minutes.

Patience and an eye for detail are an essential prerequisite for this job. Shirali says that she never tires of her work as there is always something new to make in the world of food. She soon realised that her kitchen tools were just what she required for her craft. So, the pasta machine, the garlic press, the blender all found a new home in her studio. For creating texture she uses seeds and grains, her favourite being black peppercorns and dried peas. Textured rolling pins, brushes, toothpicks and needles are her must-have-at-hand tools.

The polymer clay is non-toxic. Once it is moulded into a design, it is baked and this ensures the piece is not water soluble. Shiralis says so far she has not received any complaints of allergic reactions to her products from her customers.

Shirali keeps a low profile and does not advertise her products. She sells only through her facebook page and instagram which she set up in 2012. It’s called “Small idea” and carries pictures of her work. Her bestsellers are her pendrives. Being an unusual concept, it appeals to both men and women. It is therefore the perfect gift. I myself can think of a few chefs, foodies and home cooks who would love to own a pendrive topped with miniature food.

She does plan to take part in craft exhibitions in the future. She is also happy to conduct workshops. My daughter is now the proud owner of delicious paneer-kebab earrings! I have a pendrive as I have to download a new playlist of songs and I ordered a chopping board complete with pink lemons and all. Shirali tells me she is working on getting the right shade of pink for my lemons. I cannot wait to show it off.

Read more about food on Shanthini’s website

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