THERE ARE dream kitchens -- those tricked-out granite temples whose dual sinks, custom Italian cabinetry and professional-grade ranges would make a discerning chef envious. Then there's Clare Crespo's take on the concept, which isn't so much a dream kitchen as it is a kitchen for a dreamer, a place where glowing orange ovens pop out of secret compartments and gumdrops grow on candy trees.
Nevermind that the 400-square-foot fantasy kitchen is set up in the garage of Crespo's modest Silver Lake bungalow or that none of the appliances actually work. Or that the chick who dreamed up this crazy world is more intent on making spaghetti and meatballs look like brains and eyeballs than on picking the perfect wine to pair with braised lamb.
At a time when the kitchen has become the home's ultimate statement of style and status, Crespo's space speaks to her idea of the room's role in the home. At its heart, she says, cooking is about creativity, and that's why she has made this kitchen her stage for a lifelong dream, a kooky cooking show called “Yummyfun Kooking,” which rolls out as a DVD series this month. (View the trailer at www.yummyfun.com.)
On the set of "Yummyfun," Crespo can turn a Twinkie into a realistic-looking piece of sushi. Right now she is busy fashioning potato slices and green beans into a pair of flip-flops. Off to the left, the indoor terrarium's candy tree is in full bloom, and inside the neon-lighted refrigerator, a faux bird's nest is filled with real organic eggs.
It may all sound a little bizarre, but Crespo already has a cult culinary following. Perhaps you've spotted her roving bake sale, Treat Street, some weekend on the streets of Silver Lake? Or maybe you're familiar with her out-there cookbooks, "Hey There, Cupcake!" and "The Secret Life of Food," a fun-filled guide to transforming food into edible art. (Think caterpillar cupcakes and Jell-O filled aquariums.) "Amazing Magical Jell-O Desserts" is her favorite book, after all. Crespo, a graduate of California Institute of the Arts, spent much of her childhood in Louisiana torturing her family with weird Jell-O concoctions.
"I show it to everyone so that they can get an idea of what's going on in my brain," she says of the 1977 book by illustrator Seymour Chwast and photographer Arnold Rosenberg. "It's what made me start thinking of food as an art supply."
TWO YEARS ago Crespo ditched her gig as a music video producer and set out to bring her food art to the masses through a kid-friendly cooking show that, she hopes, adults will dig too.
"I wanted it to be something that my friends might watch hung-over, with a giant bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning," says Crespo, who played in a band with Beck before he gained fame.
She says cable networks wanted to water down her ideas, so she took matters into her own hands -- rather, her own garage. With her husband, Hollywood production designer James Chinlund, she brought her fantasy to life.
"Yummyfun," appropriately, is about dreams. It centers on Una, a little girl who imagines adventures with the woman who lives in her wall, a culinary superhero named Yummy Clare with a sequined strawberry power belt. The stories all take place in Crespo's kitchen, where recipes are sprinkled with whimsy, bananas hang out in miniature hammocks, and bugs (made of candy, of course) are always welcome. When the cooking is done and it's time to party, a disco ball descends from the ceiling and the house band, the Tastebuds, takes to the stage fronted by Eastside indie rocker John Gold in a multicolored, striped top hat.
The set is Crespo in a nutshell, says one of her art school pals, animator and director Mike Mitchell, who also created puppets for the show.
"No one's work reflects their personality more than Clare's," he says. "She's bright and fun and childlike, and that's what this place is. She said to me, 'When this show is over, everyone is going to know what a kook I am,' and I was like, 'Clare, we kind of already know.' "
Adds Crespo: "The fact that there could be a mouse in my house, peeking in on a kitchen where some crazy chick in a pink dress is molding mashed potatoes into a monster head, is one of my all-time favorite fantasies."
TO CREATE Yummy Clare's world, Chinlund stuck to simple materials: plywood, tar paper and cardboard tubes painted to look like rusty pipes. Then he added neon lights, a fiesta- inspired paint palette and plenty of Pop-arty props. The refrigerator is designed with a gigantic pipe on top, as though it's tapping into the house's cooling system to keep food cold.
"Whether or not those things are apparent to the average kid watching, it was important to me that there's a logic to the design," Chinlund says. "As though when you're watching the show you could possibly believe that this world existed in the wall."
The biggest challenge? Figuring out how to shoot from multiple angles in a 20-by-20-foot space. It was a conundrum Chinlund solved with appliances that pop out of secret compartments to maximize space.
"The place is like a transformer," says the show's editor, Michael Mees. "You can pull the stove out of the wall, and the bookshelf slides out from behind a panel."
The design reflects the spirit of the show, Chinlund says, "which is that you can pick up any old thing lying around the house and turn it into art. We basically just used what we had to make something magic."
For Crespo, that's more rewarding than any real kitchen ever could be.
"My whole life I've done a good job of letting people think I'm sane and normal," she says. "But this magical world where Yummy Clare lives is pretty much where I want to be all the time."