If Sandra Marshall’s mom told her never to play with food, the Ahwatukee artist obviously didn’t listen.
Marshall not only turns many lunch and dinners into portraits of people and animals, but now has written a book about her culinary adventures.
The book is full of food-art pieces, with stories that play on words from the recipe used to create them. “You could read this book again and again finding more hidden words with double meanings,” said Marshall, owner of the Be…An Artist Studio, 4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Ahwatukee.
Titled “One Hot Night at the Veggie Bar,” with the subtitle “A Collection of of Funky Food Art and Steamy Stories,” the 68-page, high-glossy hardcover shows off Marshall’s kitchen creations and her sense of humor.
Adult humor, that is.
“This one is not for kids,” said Marshall, who expects to publish a less steamy food art book early next year for children. “I included the 'adult' themed pictures when I visited the publisher because I thought the graphic designer would appreciate the art of 'raw' veggies. They called me and told me they want to do more than one book. The first book had to be the adult book.”
There’s no vegetable or fruit that Marshall won’t—nor can’t—use as she makes things like eggplant zebras, taco Donald Trump, refried bean Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s head of bread.
She traces the origin of her food-as-fun approach to her daughter’s decision to become a vegetarian at 5 years of age.
“I thought I’d better get to know my vegetables,” Marshall explained. “When I would buy them for recipes I was creating, the colors and shapes just would jump out at me. I couldn't help myself.”
Now, she added, “I shop and have the best time. They just scream, ‘Panda bear, zebra, sexy lady or family of dolphin!’ The produce guy at our grocery store thought I was a bit off for a long time by the way I stared at his kiwis and other produce. He finally asked me what I was doing. I told him I would bring something in to show him. He laughed so hard when I finally did.
“It is so much fun and I can't stop now,” she added. “The ideas just spin in my head….I use everything I cut up and sometimes it is just the scraps from dinner that turn into the art.”
“I can't really explain it. It just comes. I create the dinner, and at night most of the stories come in twilight sleep. I wake up and write them down. When I try to write them in the day it is harder for me.”
The “steamy” part of her book derives largely from her love of word play and her amusement over “a bit of peppery romance in the kitchen.”
“My husband knows better now than to ask me if we have any 'Fresh Salad' on his way home from work,” she said. “He came home to a salad of a man and woman that was very 'fresh.' The stories are all a play on words.”
As an example, a story titled “Fresh Salad” tells the tale of a sexy man named Radicchio, who was cooler than a cucumber. “She meets a lady at EnDive bar and he loved the way she 'dressed.’ …She didn't carr-ot all for him, and the story goes on how he buttered her up, and made her wilt by dancing the salsa. “
For people who might want to buy the book for their mother, Marshall advises, “The steamy stories are not too raw. They are just comical and go with the recipe. Of course, people take them in many different ways. Double entendre? It depends on their mindset. I laugh all the time because they ask if 'I said that,’ or make that look like 'that' on purpose. I will never tell.”
But you might want to keep the book away from kids.
“There is one photo of a 'hot potato' and that one gets me a bit embarrassed if a child sees it,” she cautioned. “Some are stories of love, passion, and characters trying to find their 'perfect combination.’ Some are just a recipe for disaster.”
For an artist who has worked most of her life in oils, pastels, acrylics, mixed media and photography, Marshall easily added food as another medium.
“I owned my own chocolate business all through high school,” she said. “I would create all delicious homemade chocolates and sell them at school and around the neighborhood. I was never broke as a kid. I always made my own money.”
A few years ago, she said, “I saw the need to promote healthy eating in children….This is my plan with my children's books. At our studio, we talk a lot about processed foods, and sugar. We do art programs teaching healthy eating, and the kids really listen. These upcoming children's books will be an amazing tool for these programs.”
Right now, Marshall has been busy with her adult book, attending author signings and other public venues, such as the Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party.
She’s pleased with the public reaction.
“The reactions have been amazing,” she said. “(Singer) Neil Diamond's wife Katie bought it and says she keeps it on her kitchen island at all times. I had my first signing for only 40 minutes at Pomegranate Cafe and sold so many books. I was signing them the whole time and loved chatting with everyone. It was like a dream.”
For anyone who might want to try their hand at food art, Marshal’s book lists the ingredients for every work presented, but she added, “This is not a 'how to' book. It is really just to entertain.
“We have people buy one and then they come back and buy more because they don't know what to expect. I just had guy buy one, and then he bought 100 more to give to all his foodie friends. It really is a good gift for anyone who likes food. Vegans and vegetarians love it as well because it is all plant-based.”
And even though she continues to buy unusual vegetables for dinner and “look them up on the internet for ways to prepare them,” Marshall admits her artist’s eye sometimes presents a terrible challenge:
“The hardest part of this whole thing is sometimes they are too cute to turn into dinner.”