They’ve been part of our takeaway orders for generations. We explore the history of Chinese/Australian takeaway classics, including the dim sim, lemon chicken and sweet & sour pork.
The modern trend of building beautiful designer foods – think cake boss – has always been a bit of a headscratcher. Why spend so much time and money on something that’s going to be hacked apart and eaten?
But to think like that is to miss the point. The point is to create something beautiful, something significant to the maker and the recipient, something that will be remembered long after the eating has finished.
Because the point isn’t eating. I mean, it’s a delightful bonus, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the main point of edible art.
One of the most spectacular and – until recently – largely unknown arms of edible art is 3-D gelatin art. The incredibly intricate designs are made by injecting layers of coloured jelly or milk into a clear gelatin ball, square or whatever shape the artist desires. All sorts of amazing designs can be made, but the most popular by far are flowers. They seem to be suspended, hanging in suspended animation in a case of glass or crystal, like an immaculate paperweight or snow globe.
This remarkable modern food art has its roots in Mexico but has quickly spread to the rest of the world. It was popularized in Vietnam, and a lot of the unique tools used to shape and sculpt the designs hail from there. Australia is home to some great 3D gelatin artists, and one of them is Jinee.
The creation starts with a blank jelly cake, which is then turned upside down. Yep, that’s right, the designs are built layer by layer – backwards! It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to build an 8-inch cake, and the cold weather in Australia’s south makes the building process even more difficult – the milk has to be hot to work its magic, so needs to be heated continuously so it doesn’t solidify!
With the uniqueness of each design and the fact that it’s built upside down, means Jinee gets a delightful surprise every time she turns a cake over and sees what she’s built for the first time.
Jinee only uses natural colours in her art, for example, her blues are made from butterfly pea flowers and her greens derived from matcha tea. Her jelly of choice is konnyaku jelly due to its superior elasticity, unlike more brittle varieties such as agar.
As a master of her craft, Jinee loves teaching the next generation of 3D jelly artists. She says the skill, despite how complicated it looks, is quite easy to pick up. It’s also cheap, with tools being sold online for around $7. Jinee herself has over 200 different tools, but beginner sets usually contain 3-5 different spatula like metal shapers.