TaiwanFest 2017: Food painter Yui Aida inspired by nature to create sweet treats

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      Have you ever wondered what the sky would taste like if it could be eaten?

      For those who love art and food, this year’s TaiwanFest has imported a food painter from Japan to tickle attendees’ culinary senses.

      One of the programs at this family-friendly extravaganza is the Kitchen of Sweetness—a talk and workshop led by Japanese chef and food painter Yui Aida.

      Aida studied architecture in her native land before exploring the culinary sphere, travelling to different countries to find and taste locally farmed produce and ingredients.

      But what does it mean to be a food painter?

      “It means drawing a theme using foods on a dish,” Aida told the Georgia Straight by phone. “I didn’t name myself as a food painter, but when I was doing what I thought was interesting, that title became attached to me.”

      Her travels often spark her creativity, enabling her to create food paintings that have become very popular in Taiwan.

      “I’ve travelled not only to other countries that are far from Japan, but also to [closer destinations] such as a park near my house,” Aida said. “I live in Tokyo, and the sea and the sky that I see during jogging and doing home gardening inspire my imagination.”

      Here are some sweets that look like veggies.
      Yui Aida

      Most of her creations are desserts made with edible décor that mimics the natural environment—think a potted plant, stones, soil, and mushrooms.

      Aida constantly questions her surroundings by pondering how certain things would taste if they could be consumed. What would be the flavour of a blooming flower? What would the sea or the sun be like to eat? She pushes the boundaries of dessert-making, resulting in unique creations and recipes.

      But don’t expect classic sweets that could be found at a local pastry shop.

      “I make sweets with seasonal vegetables and fruits [and] without eggs and dairy products,” Aida explained.

      The Japanese food painter enjoys using ingredients with natural, bright colours—especially vegetables and fruits high in natural sugars—to make desserts that are both beautiful and delicious.

      “When thinking about sweets, I think people imagine very sweet cakes and cookies,” Aida noted. “My sweets bring out the taste of the sweetness of the ingredients themselves, so I only need to use a small amount of sugar.”

      She said that in the month that she’s been in Vancouver, she’s made many discoveries, particularly at farmers markets. “It was shocking to me that the vegetables and fruits were very delicious,” she stated. “The taste of them is condensed and fresh.”

      An edible potted plant dessert.
      Yui Aida

      Visitors who attend her program at TaiwanFest will be in for a treat: Aida will prepare five different items that revolve around a natural theme.

      “I will express nature that everyone knows with sweets,” she added. “This includes a food interpretation of the sea, the sky, and the sun. It’s not only appearance, it is also nature captured by the five senses.”

      Visitors will be able to delight their taste buds with a “sky dish”: dou fa (Taiwanese pudding) made with soy milk. Another dish, “the sea”, will be made with butterfly pea tea (butterfly pea is a plant from Southeast Asia) paired with lemon juice.

      “I think that sweets and food [are] the common communication tool all over the world, and it will enrich the usual life of people,” Aida said. “I am happy if the world of people who ate what I made can be expanded, even if just a little. I hope to have a good time by sharing my food with everyone.”

      The Kitchen of Sweetness will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (September 2 and 3) and at 3 p.m. on Monday (September 4) in the 500 block of Granville Street as part of TaiwanFest. A complete schedule of events is available here.