Recipes for Gnomes and Gastronomes


Asked what she does for a living, food artist Clare Crespo responds, “I bake weird cupcakes.” Now there’s an understatement: Crespo’s art uses photography, sculpture and a demented sense of whimsy to create magical domains where birds’ birthdays are cause for celebration, cupcakes sprout wings and sushi becomes a theme for crocheted art pieces. Her new cookbook, “The Secret Life of Food,” invites kids of all ages to enter her fantastical world, and glimpse her Caterpillar Cake inching down the garden path.

Filled with recipes and edible sight gags such as Football Meatloaf, Mutant Chicken and Monster Head Potatoes, the book’s rich, glossy photographs are as at home on the Noguchi coffee table as in the frosting-encrusted hands of a kid. Crespo’s youthful sensibility manifests itself in concoctions including Banana Dog (a banana served in a hot dog bun) and luridly colored, icy Hand Punch, and in one-of-a-kind commissions such as a “fire-breathing Siamese twins cake” for a party of 150. “I actually lit the thing on fire using a lemon juice pyrotechnic trick, and used red velvet cake. Things got even sicker when I decided to run red whip licorice arteries through the arms and legs, making it really hard to cut apart.”

Crespo, 34, admits that a lot of her creations are “a little bit weird” and refers to her artistic vision as “the magical nonsense inside my brain.” She earned a master’s in experimental animation at CalArts, played bass “very badly” in a band with alternative rock star Beck and produced music videos for such innovative directors as Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”). “Being with all of these people was inspiring, and that’s when I started some of my own projects, like the crocheted food pieces, on the side to keep me sane.”


Now she focuses strictly on her own creative pursuits (both edible and otherwise), splitting her time between quirky commissions (“I was hired to do a family portrait in mashed potatoes!”), her column, “MadFlavaz,” for pop culture magazine Tokion, writing her lesson plan for another stint at the New School of Cooking in Culver City and preparing for an art show June 22 at the Annex in Chinatown. “For this show, I’m making giant soft-sculpture [stuffed fabric and vinyl] cupcakes, which will be amazing against blue skies. But afterward, I picture them in a kid’s room--wouldn’t it be great to see some kid sitting on one, talking on the phone?”

What it all comes down to for Crespo is a commitment to accessible art, and the desire to find creativity and joy in life’s daily grind. “I’m not in my studio with my chisel and marble. I’m on my couch, watching the Lakers, crocheting a hamburger!”