“The idli is the simplest and easiest to make,” she exclaims, having just kneaded the special clay to fashion it into tiny, fluffy, moist idlis. Except that they are non-edible, never mind that they look decidedly real. Chennai-based artiste Shilpa Mitha, has people flocking to her from all corners of the world, to create micro replicas of food they are fond of. The latest being her rendition of internationally-renowned Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna’s favourite khichdi. “Someone wanted to gift it to him, and I included an additional replica of the pea soup – another favourite of the chef, for him,” she enthuses, as the visual reception of the goodies has Insta peeps in a tizzy.
It is an amazing feat for the quilling artiste who has turned into a pseudo chef, powered by her love for food and passion to pioneer an artform in the country. Shilpa has perfected the fine layers, rolls, sheen and real visage of hotsellers in the cuisines worldwide. Her practised hands work their magic to stun people across the globe. “The most difficult is the rendition of rice. A rice dish can take me upto five days to prepare,” she confesses. “Each grain needs to be crafted separately and given the complexion for the entire dish to unify. So just the rolling of the grains itself can take me upto three days as the grains need to be same in size and shape. Some dishes that people commission and share images of, I have to read up instensively on. That is my in-depth research, studying the ingredients that goes into their making. Like I have just finished making the Parsi delicacy, the berry pulao, and found out that cranberries rev up its complexion and flavour,” shares Shilpa, who by self-admission is not conversant with all cuisines but makes it her business to dig out the details of each project. The girl who did art classes in school has taken to a new kind of artistic expression.
The biggest challenge is the exacting task of kneading the special air dried clay. Of course, almost all the ingredients Shilpa uses are imported. Sometimes her hands hurt with exhaustion and that is when her mother steps in to lend her a helping hand, like rolling the colours uniformly in the clay. But the clay is the fundamental ingredient, that cannot be left standing as it solidifies rapidly. Thereafter Shilpa swings into action with her secret tools and expertise. What swung her into this niche profession in India, as a pioneer, was her creation of burger ear rings for herself in 2011. Compliments and orders flowed in galore and since then serendipity has spelt sheer success for her. Shilpa started her company Sueno Souvenir and there has been no looking back since.
So there are green chilli laced miniscule vada paos, complete with the fresh pores in the typical bread and fried potato ball that makes for yummy street food in Mumbai. Then there are glistening, seemingly deep fried medu vadas ringed in delectable style on the plate; perfectly cut, crispy golden French fries; a treasured South Indian spread on the banana leaf; fluffy puris, plump chicken tikkas, dhokla laced with tiny black balls masquerading as mustard seeds, mini dosas with the crispy brown skin....taking food artistry to another level. Way beyond the foodie realm.
With moderate pricing tagging her artworks (prices begin at Rs 350), it is no wonder then that when Mitha announces an online sale of odd pieces, it is a clean sweep in less than an hour. But then Mitha refuses to scale up and dilute her brand equity. The 30-year-old artist has over 14K followers on Instagram, and gets nearly 20 orders and requests every day. At 31, she is indisputably the showstopper on the micro foods canvas. And just like her techniques and tricks, even the cleaning of each non-breakable rendition is ingenious “Use a spot of cold cream to lick away the dust and each piece is good,” she signs off with a dazzling smile. Chew on it, or not!