By Chef Stephan C. Baity
I started carving out of necessity. I knew how to add levels and color to my buffet but adding a fruit carving added an element of artistry that made the hors d’oeuvre table a centerpiece rather than and just a “nice touch.” As a result, I’ve been able to offer another service as a chef that has placed me at a higher price bracket–which is always a plus!
But the journey here wasn’t easy. A dozen years ago, I couldn’t find any carving classes taught in the U.S. and very few videos were available in English. So, as a self-taught artist, most of my education has come by trial and error. I spent hours poring over books written in Thai, studying videos and eating lots of fruit salad.
Since I had such a difficult time finding the help and support I needed, one of my greatest joys is to share what I’ve learned with others. Hopefully it will save you some time and frustration.
1. Start with one great knife!
Learn to use that knife really well. For example, I learned to make most cuts using my Thai-style carving knife rather than purchasing six different scoop tools of multiple sizes. It’s cost effective and it makes me a better carver. For beginners I would recommend starting with a 2 ½-inch bird’s beak carving knife from Kom Kom Knives.
2. Keep the designs simple.
Basic skills cross over to more advanced presentation. If you can master the basics, you’ll eventually be able to do more.
3. Embrace your mistakes!
New artists often try to copy other artists to perfection and it can end in frustration. When I first began, I would see failure in my inability to copy a design. Now I use designs I see as inspiration and as guides, but not as models. I focus on understanding the process and then make the design my own using the same principles. It gives me the freedom to enjoy my work and the creativity without being overly concerned with the finished product.
4. There’s creativity in numbers!
Find a community of carvers and get plugged in. Ask questions. Learn from others as often as possible. Being around other artists challenges me to be a better carver and I’m always inspired by the creativity of others. It’s how I stay fresh.
You’ll find great ideas and great community at this year’s American Culinary Federation ChefConnect: Charlotte conference Feb. 25-27 in Charlotte, North Carolina! Be sure to pre-register for the “Graffiti Your Melon” workshop with me and Patrick O’Brien, The Fruit Carving Ninja. You’ll get to participate in a step-by-step hands-on demo to learn current garde manger techniques using armature design and assemble a showpiece.
If you’re a chef, culinary student or work in foodservice, ACF’s ChefConnect: Charlotte in February and ChefConnect: Newport Beach in March will connect you with nearly 500 industry professionals for networking, learning and discovering new trends and techniques. In July, over 1,000 chefs will gather for Cook. Craft. Create. ACF National Convention & Show at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans.
Visit our website for event details, information on discounted hotel blocks and an airline discount when you fly Delta to one of our events.