'Food is art': Chef carves edible creations

July 7, 2011 12:32:00 PM

Jan Swoope - jswoope@cdispatch.com

 

Don''t bother telling David Leathers not to play with his food. He can''t help it. And, in this case, that''s a good thing. The Fulton native has turned his infectious enjoyment of food into a career as a food sculptor and chef. 

 

As adept at entertaining as he is at carving, Leathers captured the attention of visitors to the West Point Farmers'' Market June 30. Under the pavilion at Mossy Oak on Highway 45 Alternate, the owner of Food Stylin in Tupelo deftly turned cantaloupe into cats and birds and squash into monkeys.  

 

Along the way, he delighted some of the youngest market-goers, demonstrating that "food is art." Leathers is on a mission to also show elementary school-age kids the light about healthy eating. He makes appearances at schools nationwide, emphasizing healthier alternatives to junk food and teaching children hands-on culinary skills they can absorb at almost any age. 

 

Leathers'' skills, of course, bridged all age groups. 

 

Robin Perry of West Point is a caterer, bartender and cake and cupcake designer. 

 

"It was great to see someone be so artistic with food. Food is one of my many passions and his craftsmanship was amazing," Perry said. "He was wonderful and very interactive with the kids, which made his performance even better." 

 

Of the West Point appearance, Martha Allen of the West Point/Clay County Growth Alliance and Farmers'' Market remarked, "It was very successful! We had a good crowd of children, young adults and adults." 

 

 

 

Starting young 

 

Six-year-old Davis Lancaster was in the West Point audience. His parents, Eric and Anne Lancaster, own Lancaster Farms in Starkville and are regular market vendors.  

 

"My favorite was the monkey," Davis said of the carver''s menagerie. "I got to keep it," he added. When asked if he thought he might like to be a food sculptor one day, he answered, "I think I would do that." 

 

Leathers'' own best memories, he says, come from growing up and helping in the kitchen of his parents'' restaurant in Fulton.  

 

At 18, he attended culinary school in Pennsylvania, graduating valedictorian of his class. He went on to study at the Andy Mannhart Academy in Luzern, Switzerland. An outgoing personality and passion for cooking and carving make him a natural for TV appearances, such as on TLC Extreme Food. He''s also made three instructional DVDs on the subject of carving. (Check them out at foodstylin.com/products.) 

 

His most time-consuming projects at hand revolve around production of a children''s cooking show called "I Play with Food," expected to air on PBS this fall.  

 

"Right now, my favorite foods to work with are cheese and tallow," Leathers shares on his web site. (Tallow is a hard, fatty substance from rendered animal fat.) "My favorite fruit is watermelon." His creativity doesn''t stop at vegetables and fruit; he''s also carved in ice, chocolate and butter. 

 

"A carving will last for three to four banquets, as long as you take care of it," says the sculptor. "Picking under-ripe fruit will help it to last," he adds, as a tip. 

 

Of course, Leathers'' talents don''t stop at artistic food presentation. The 30-year-old also adds a special touch to recipes for everything from granola to haute cuisine. Included today are some of his suggestions for simple, healthy ways to get your day off to a good start. 

 

Visit foodstylin.com to learn more about this unique Mississippi food artist. 

 

 

 

BERRY BANANA SMOOTHIE 

 

Makes two 8-ounce servings 

 

 

 

One banana 

 

1 cup frozen blueberries or strawberries 

 

1/2 cup soymilk or organic low-fat milk 

 

1/4 cup orange juice (100 percent juice) 

 

 

 

 

 

EASY PEASY PANCAKES 

 

 

 

One egg, preferably free-range or organic 

 

1 teaspoon vanilla 

 

1 cup soymilk or organic low-fat milk 

 

1 cup self-rising flour 

 

Pinch sea salt 

 

 

 

 

 

CINNAMON RAISIN GRANOLA 

 

Makes 6 cups 

 

 

 

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats 

 

1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds 

 

1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice (almonds, walnuts, pecans) 

 

1/2 cup honey 

 

1/4 cup canola oil 

 

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

 

1 teaspoon vanilla 

 

1 cup raisins 

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.