Molded to perfection: The art of food models

There is much passion and precision that goes into the act of creating eye-catching pieces—more so if it involves catching one’s appetite, such as in fake food art.

The human eye is easily swayed by the sight of food. Even the passing glimpse of a delightful meal can catch one’s attention and stir up a craving or appetite. In the mirage of it all, the eyes are opened and the mind is blinded by cravings of anticipation. 

Alas, the food of fixation is not for eating, but for display. 

These mouth-watering creations are far from reality, yet they still wonderfully manage to evoke such a strong desire for the real thing. From the vibrant yellow hues of Java rice to the glossy sheen of Maillard-charred barbecue, these masterpieces of illusion serve as a testament to the skill and creativity of their creators.

Means for molding

All art serves a certain purpose, and for fake food displays, this need often arises as a cheaper alternative to using fresh food for display purposes.

For example, Binondo-based fake food artist Manuel Joseph Sanchez recalls that in his former restaurant business, he had to set aside actual cooked food for display. “Since ang [business] concept [namin] is sizzling, everything [is] naka-display. [At gumagamit kami ng] mga original na pagkain,” he says. But due to spoilage and the high costs of replacing dishes, he sought alternative ways to display his restaurant’s food.

(Since our business concept is sizzling, everything is on display. And we use original food.) 

The Japanese art of creating shokuhin sampuru, which are custom-made plastic replicas of food for display, intrigued Sanchez. He recounts, “Inaralan ko kung paano siya gawin, yung mga techniques and everything. Nag-start muna siya sa restaurant namin.” 

(I studied how to do it, the techniques and everything. I started getting into it in our restaurant.)

On the other hand, Alan Rapsing, a painter and sculptor from Tiaong, Quezon, first got into making fake food art in 2012 after being amazed by a fake longganisa that his friend made for the Mind Museum in Taguig. “Na-amaze ako,” he says.

(I was amazed by his work, it really got me.)

Both of them attest that fake food artists in the Philippines use different techniques than those in Japan, most of whom are self-taught and only take inspiration from or follow the basics of the Japanese techniques. “Yung sa Japan, ginaya ko kung paano ‘yung technique nila, pero ‘yung sa atin, original ‘yon,” Rapsing says.

(I imitated how the technique is in Japan, but ours is original.)

Regardless, the diversity of food products entails a large variety of techniques for their replication, stressing that “when you deal with different foods, may mga iba-iba ring techniques kada sa isang item eh.”

(When you deal with different foods, there are different techniques for each food item.)

For instance, to achieve their desired product, Rapsing experiments with different materials, such as clay, foam, wood, plastic, and wax. “I wanted to challenge myself to create something unique, creative, realistic, na nakaka-amaze,” he says.

Meanwhile, Sanchez uses sturdy fiberglass that is hardened and cast from silicon and fiber resin by hand. While each dish is made to order and is done manually, he still finds excitement in being able to replicate a wide variety of food products. “Nae-excite lang kami,” he says, noting in Filipino that even when he and his team get tired, they enjoy the process of making the food replicas together.

(We get excited.)

Fake food, real money

Making fake food art isn’t what artists would describe as a piece of cake, as artists must consider a lot of factors in replicating each and every dish. “Ang pinaka path out namin [ay] kung paano yung arrangement, paano nakalagay, [at] paano nila sine-serve,” Sanchez says.

(Our path out is how it is arranged, placed, and served.)

The process could get really tedious. Rapsing explains that they continually modify their output until it matches the customer’s preference. He emphasizes that having the “right texture, right color, and right shape” for the whole output are vital to realistic food displays. “Minsan nare-reject-an pa kami ‘pag mali ‘yung kulay ‘saka ayaw ‘yung texture, he shares. 

(Sometimes we get rejected when we get the colors wrong and when the customer dislikes the texture.)

Ensuring the quality of their craft, Sanchez strives to ascertain that they communicate clearly with their clients. “Pinupuntahan ko ‘yung business nila para mas maintindihan ko ‘yung product nila,” he explains. He adds that their craft should be “very detailed and very specific” since clients would want their food products accurately and beautifully depicted. Rapsing states that while fake food art can be costly, it is worth the price since the outputs serve the restaurants for life. 

(I visit their businesses so I can better understand their product.)

Sanchez candidly admits these meetings consume his energy, but he still finds joy in them. “I enjoy dealing with different [people], ‘yung business is lumalaki dahil I meet different people,” he comments. 

(The business expands because I meet different people.)

Rapsing emphasizes that making fake food art requires precision, patience, and dedication. He says that the “very complex” process must incorporate different techniques, such as the use of silicon, and plaster. 

As Rapsing and his team were learning about the craft, life was already on its way to teach them lessons about hope and persistence. Marketing food models was difficult, with disadvantages in market visibility and interest. He shares about the craft eventually capturing the hearts of Filipinos, with curiosity serving as the gateway. While their first client was a Korean, the appreciation toward the craft began to grow, inspiring Filipinos to appreciate the uniqueness of this art.

What was once disdain turned into curiosity and appreciation for the dainty food. Much to the artists’ advantage, there are only a few fake food artists in business here in the country, so the increasing demand paves the way for more income. Rapsing remarks, “Nagiging financially stable kami kasi dire-diretso naman yung [mga] orders.” 

(We became financially stable thanks to a steady flow of orders.)

The future of fake food 

What started as a hobby continued as a legacy. The process of crafting fake food brings joy to the people, as passersby would stop and stare at the art on display, encouraging increased sales for restaurants. With growing social media exposure, the craftsmen still have room to expand their clientele. “The customers are everywhere,” says Sanchez in Filipino, as he recounts clients from Korea who would bring his works to Dubai. 

Fake food art has become an avenue for expression. Rapsing believes that the art’s evolution encourages more artists to develop new techniques and describes their artistic techniques as “armas bilang alagad ng sining”. 

(Weapons as guardians of art.)

“I just believed in the future of my product,” Sanchez shares in Filipino. Enthusiastic to share the same spirit with young entrepreneurs, Sanchez plans to conduct seminars for further training. More people becoming acquainted with the art means they will recognize its deeper angles: the persistence, intensive research, innovation, and dedication to bring artistic visions to reality. 

The art of fake food displays goes beyond what meets the eye and its role in enticing people to indulge into a delicious meal. It serves as a profound reflection of the artist’s soul, embodying their unwavering commitment to their craft and the lasting legacy of displays that will stand the test of time. 

Matthew Gan

By Matthew Gan

Daphne Bayona

By Daphne Bayona

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