Celebrity chef creates art with fruit and veggies

Celebrity Chef James Parker shows a group of students how to carve a flower out of a papaya.
March 12, 2013

Food Network celebrity chef James Parker took McDaniel students on a tour of his fruit and veggie art, magically transforming beets into roses, leeks into spider mums and the lowly eggplant into intricately carved wings of a squash bird with a carrot beak.

Parker teaches classes, books demonstrations and sells his creations out of his Virginia-based Veggy Art. He has served as the pumpkin carver from the White House Halloween Event and is featured on the Food Network.

As Parker deftly peeled, sliced and carved, students stopped by over the three-hour lunch period to watch and learn. His visit is the brainstorm of Mandy Piper, dining hall manager with the college’s SODEXO food service, who is offering cooking classes such as Parker’s veggie art once a month to the McDaniel community. A recent sushi class drew about 300 mostly students, and next month’s class features New Orleans cuisine.

Jacqueline Kolawole (below right), a sophomore from Washington, D.C., considered the time well spent – and relevant to her Art major.

Celebrity chef creates art with fruit and veggies

“He is not only professionally talented, he has a knack for story telling as well. We learned about his profession, his career story and carving techniques,” says Kolawole, whose second major is Business Administration. “It was surprising to see the amount of care he put into the beginning of each carving as well as the end carving. The way his work combines artistic talent and a knowledge and love for edible objects was fantastic.”

Parker chatted with his audience, offering his trademark insights into his craft, as he assembled a vividly colored centerpiece.

“I get my inspiration everywhere – kids, nature, photographs – but I don’t copy what I see,” Parker says. “First I get the idea, then have to figure out how to translate produce into that idea.”

“I’m always looking for inspiration in everything… what? You guys don’t dream about vegetables?”

“Keep the rules in mind,” he says, explaining that traditionally real and veggie flowers should never be mixed in the same centerpiece. “But question everything – I like to add some real flowers to add texture and softness. Make sure they are non-toxic in case you get someone who eats the flowers too.”

Sophomore Greg Laslo (below right) of Finksburg, Md., stopped by out of curiosity.

Celebrity chef creates art with fruit and veggies

“You don’t think of food this way,” he says. “But I’ll probably try it.”