When Gitta Radau sees a watermelon, she isn’t thinking of the most economical way to cut it into triangular slices like the rest of us. The artist from Byron Bay, NSW instead sees the possibility of a delicate rose, an intricate orchid or a complex Mandela.
And while it may seem an time consuming way to prepare something that’s going to be eaten, many artists are in fact reviving the ancient art of Thai Fruit carving (or Kae Sa Luk) that was once reserved for entertaining royalty in Chaiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
“I find it very relaxing and meditative,” says Gitta who runs carving business Melon As Anything. “I can carve anywhere. All I need is my knife, which I always carry in my handbag.”
What started out as a hobby making gifts for friend’s wedding and dinner parties after her son showed her a video on YouTube, transpired into an passion after she studied with Master Carver Khun Narata in Northern Thailand. Now, Gitta carves her exquisite pieces for functions, weddings, restaurants and even funeral blessings. ”What could be more beautiful than ‘Art-t-depart? I think everything tastes better when it’s been made with love and care.”
“Everything about this craft inspires me,” says Gitta. “The fruits and vegetables are beautiful to touch, and the colours of the watermelon are so exquisite from the fuchsia pink centre, to the delicate white frosting, and deep green tones of the outer skin.”
“Google ‘watermelon carving’ and you’ll see just how popular edible sculpture has become in recent years. “Chefs and culinary artisans all over the world share their designs and techniques on Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms,” says Gitta.
“There are certain basic techniques to learn and then the rest is in the creative department. It’s actually easier than you might think and you could surprise your friends and family with delicious, edible, handmade gifts.”
1. Get the right tools
“I started with a kitchen paring knife, but I would most certainly recommend a Thai Carving Knife,” says Gitta. “They are about the size of a pen and so beautiful to use. Nothing compares. I also carve locally made soaps and use the same knives for this, as well as other soap carving tools.”
2. Make mistakes
“Whenever I made a so called ‘mistake’ with my teacher, she would laugh and say, ‘doesn’t matter – it’s art’. It’s easy to purchase exact from factory shelf, but handmade is filled with learning curves.”
To hone your skills, Gitta recommends going to workshops, something that she herself offers on a by-appointment basis in Byron Bay. Otherwise, you can learn the way Gitta did – on YouTube! Just start carving.
4. Don’t just limit yourself to watermelons
You can also try zucchini, cantaloupe, eggplant, pumpkins and kumara, potato or radishes.
“Small soaps are a wonderful way to practice new designs and ideas,” says Gitta. “Pumpkins are great for intricate detail as they last longer and can be kept fresh for say 4-5 days max. Taro is another great carving canvas, but needs to be kept in a bowl of lemon water to keep it from turning black. A great little trick is to have a beetroot on hand and simply touch the tips of radish/potato roses for an exquisite colour effect.”
5. Safety first
“Be mindful while carving,” says Gitta. “As with any craft involving knives, these blades are very sharp and I always carry bandaids for tiny nicks.”