Sunday, April 21, 2024

MONDAY MAN: Master carver


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HE LIKES TO PLAY with his food, but that in itself may not be a bad thing since he creates works of art.

Food carver Xiangguang Fan produces incredible art from fruit, food and ice.

For Fan, who moved to Barbados from Shandong, China in 2003, carving is a centuries-old tradition. 

“In China food carving is a culture,” he said. “In China when you have a birthday or when you have an anniversary or for a wedding, you do a carving.”

He noted that at a wedding the preferred carving was a dragon for the male and a phoenix for the female. For special events some people like a horse or sea creature while roses or flowers are common on Mother’s Day.

Acquiring carving skills is common in China. Fan said the learning process does not rely heavily on books or pictures; just an understanding of the tools and a teacher, since everybody does it differently.

Fan was a self-starter, acquiring the skills through practice and learning from different teachers as he moved around from place to place working.

The chef and owner of Oriental Restaurant and Bar in St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church, has been passing on his skills to Barbadians at the Barbados Community College’s Hospitality Institute where he has taught food art carving since 2007.

“Barbados does not have enough food presentation like carvings,” he said. “The skills were really poor so I made a decision and went to school and learned English, then asked to teach at the PomMarine [the institute’s training school]. They said the skill is really special, come in please. Since that I started to teach.”

Fan said that each year he tried to add new elements to the lessons. However, he added that not everyone could master the art form. 

“Carving; everybody loves it but not everybody can reach it. Only five per cent of the people can get it done. It is an art and if you do not have an art sense in your mind, you cannot give a representation of it.”

Therefore, he said practice was important to developing the skills to a high level.

Speaking about the range of people who had shown an interest in the classes, Fan said even some professional chefs wanted to learn. His classes are also filled with people who are not cooks but just want to acquire knowledge. The food artist also does demonstrations at schools on career days.

Fan said working with fruits and vegetables required different tools and techniques to working with ice and butter or even bread. Though the tools were not readily available in Barbados, Fan said he could source them for people who were interested.

With regard to butter carvings which are not as yet popular among the Barbadians, Fan said he has made several carvings for centrepiece displays at special events. One of his most memorable was a replica of the statue in Independence Square of Barbados first prime minister and National Hero, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, for the NIFCA Gala. Fan has also done the Barbados Coat of Arms.

He said the possibilities for carvings were endless and the development of the skills would lend to better food presentation. Even the cocktails at his restaurant have carved garnishes.


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