My cousin Harini has introduced me to a whole other world of food ! It’s far from edible but that doesn’t make it any less delectable, to look at ! Thanks to her, I got to know Shirali and learn more about her miniature food creations. Shirali lives in Ahmedabad and is a “miniaturist “. That’s the term for an artist who works in creating miniatures of real life size objects. Food is a passion with this artist and she showcases it in the most delightful way. Using polymer clay as a medium ,her nimble talented fingers create a whole array of food in all it’s forms. These, she then attaches to pen drives ,jewellery ,bookmarks and many other objects as requested by her clients. Her creations are unbelievable. She doesn’t miss the tiniest detail. The banana is ripened just so , the kebabs have the right amount of char on them , the cookies look golden and crumbly , the edge of a bitten popsicle makes you want to have a nibble . The first time that my daughter and I laid eyes on these amazing morsels ,we were just beside ourselves . The pancakes were stacked perfectly ,the butter melted just right and the fruit ,oh my ,fresh blueberries placed deftly on the top before being smothered by a dribble of honeyed maple syrup. Yum. The syrup ends in a little drop and you can’t resist putting your finger out lest it hits the table ! Don’t we all ,at times think that a dish looks too perfect to be eaten ?! Sometimes we just don’t have the heart to do so. Shirali’s quirky creations can just be admired all day long to one’s heart’s content. They are without a doubt inedible food perfections to delight your sense of sight !
Shirali trained in pottery making at Raheja Arts College in Mumbai. She always loved collecting objects in miniature. It was on a trip to Bangkok where she spotted food magnets that looked so very real. Thai food and all it’s delights were captured perfectly in the form of tiny prawns and tropical fruit. The fascination for food art just stuck with her from there on and there was no turning back.It was in 2011 that she first experimented with creating food out of polymer clay. Living abroad at the time ,it was easily available and she could experiment with it as she wished. After having recently moved back to India ,it took her awhile to source it here. Shirali says that this clay is such a versatile medium to work with. One can mimic just about anything. It very easily takes on the visual characteristic of wood , stone , semi precious stones etc and is quite hardy. It is expensive but the results are well worth the cost. The art on the pen drives is far more elaborate than on the jewellery. We are talking chopping boards with a variety of produce on them , a box of macarons neatly arranged , a platter of the choicest delicacies and so much more. With practice ,she says ,comes the ease in execution. Now her experienced hands take about 20 minutes each for the simpler pieces and 3 hours each for the more complicated ones. Her studio ,where she puts in 10 to 12 hours a day is her haven. It consists of not just her work table ,but a refrigerator , an entertainment unit, a tea and coffee machine and anything else she can think of. It’s a space where she shuts herself away from the rest of the world. She is happiest having her meals ,here as well ! She laughingly adds that most of the time ,half her kitchen finds its way to her studio. If she’s doing a beetroot for example ,she always make sure to keep a real one on her table ,just so she doesn’t miss out on adding any of the finer details. Her objective is to not make cartoon or toy images of food but that of making it look as close to the real thing as possible. Despite having churned out exquisite food miniatures ,she does not take her work for granted. Shirali has very high standards of quality. This is the reason she prefers to work in batches on any one given day. She concentrates on only croissants in one day , muffins the next , only pizza the day after and so forth. This helps her maintain symmetry in not only her design but also with regard to colour.
The polymer clay comes in primary colours. So she has red , blue ,yellow , black and white ,supplied to her. With these colours she has managed to make,on her own , over 2000 colours and shades by mixing the clay in different proportions. She has documented recipes for each one of these colours. This was something that just blew my mind. Very matter of factly she says, ” you know lemon cake has it’s own colour that is different from the yellow of a mango ” and ” a cookie requires a different transparency than ,say a grape” ! How very right. I hadn’t thought of it in that angle at all. To replicate something that nature has created requires so much precision and thought. That very day she was working on a shade of orange for a fruit tart. She says the first cupcake she ever made took her all of 40 minutes. So ,yes ,this craft requires a high level of patience. An eye for detail is an essential prerequisite for such a job. But ,in all of that ,it is rather addictive and she often loses track of time. Over time one does learn to adapt and pick up tiny tricks of the trade that will help optimise the time spent creating. Shirali says that she never tires of it all because there is always something new to make ,in the world of food. Initially she started out with a lot of fancy gadgets and tools necessary to create her teeny objects d’ art. Soon she realised that all the stuff she needed was available in her very own kitchen. Imagine that ! So ,the pasta machine ,the garlic press, the blender all found a new home in her studio. For creating texture she loves to use the various seeds and grains from her kitchen shelves ,her favourite being black peppercorns and dried peas . Textured rolling pins , brushes ,toothpicks and needles are her ‘must have at hand’ tools. I think to myself , despite the difference in the end result , she and I actually happen to work with the same kitchen nick nacks
The polymer clay is non toxic. She has never had a problem working with it . Once it is molded into a design it does need to be baked to get the desired effect and gloss. The baking process makes it non water soluble ,which thereby ensures high durability. She has not received any complaints from customers on the allergy front ,either on wearing or handling. That’s definitely a comforting thought. The constant kneading and pressing etc does put a toll on the hand and fingers. Her 7 day work week had to be cut down to 6 against doctor’s orders !This is something she needs to get used to as she is happiest while creating. She confesses to keeping a very low profile.She does not advertise and is therefore not widely known in local circles . She sells only through her facebook page and instagram ,which she set up in 2012 . It’s called “Small idea” and carries pictures of all her work. Her unique selling point is her pendrives. Being an unusual concept, it has a universal appeal for both men and women of all ages.It therefore makes for the perfect gift. I can think of a few chefs , foodies , home cooks who would love to own a pendrive topped with very realistic looking miniature food . She also gets repeat orders for her splatter coasters and jewellery. People between the age groups 12 to 50 are the ones that find her work most appealing. She does plan to take part in craft exhibitions in the future. Shirali is open to conducting workshops to teach her ‘self taught craft’ to those that are keen to learn it. My daughter is the proud owner of delicious looking paneer kebab earrings ,a gift from her aunt ! She agrees that they make a great gift for teenagers ! I so need to download a new play list of songs ,on a pendrive. The timing could not have been more right ! Of course I just had to order a chopping board for myself complete with pink lemons and all. Shirali is currently doing the R & D to get the right shade of pink for my lemons. That makes me one excited blogger. I cannot wait to show it off on my website !
The links for Shirali’s page ;