Details from the Ginger Bread Charity Diorama at the Four Seasons Hotel, Austin, Texas. Photos by Tracie B.
Maybe it’s the little boy in me… I’ve always been fascinated with culinary anamorphism — a cultural phenomenon whereby food is refashioned to resemble something else, edible or otherwise.
The tradition of fashioning food to look like buildings stretches back to the Renaissance. One of the most famous examples is torrone nougat: on the occasion of the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza, October 25, 1441, the bride and groom were presented with a nougat replica of the city’s church bell tower, the so-called Torrione (today known as the Torrazzo) from which the sweet derived its name.
Another such example from recent memory is Abe Lebewohl’s depiction of Manhattan’s Twin Towers, fashioned out of chopped liver from the Second Avenue Deli.
The Art of Cooking by fifteenth-century Italian chef Maestro Martino (which I translated for UC Press, 2005) offers many examples of culinary anamorphism, mostly for the sake of recreating milk and eggs on days when they were forbidden by the Catholic church.
Last night Tracie B had to drag me away from the ginger bread diorama in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin. Our good friend chef Todd Duplechan oversees the creation and construction of this wondrous little city. Each edifice is auctioned off for charity (last year, a celebrity loved it so much, she paid for it to be recreated and reassembled in Las Vegas, “just so she could show how cool Austin is,” said chef Todd).
Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll!