Ashwin Iyer aka Magicplateman, the master of edible illusion, talks to HB about how he was drawn to the culinary world
It’s a bite-sized bouquet—three rose red buds, flanked by a trio or turmeric coloured florets, bedded in a large leaf of green and banded by a crimson band, laid out in a sea of pearl white. You could easily picture this elegant corsage on the wrist of the girl of your dreams.
And that there is the magic of the magicplateman. What you’re really looking at—or biting into if you’re one of the lucky few to be served the plate—is one of several surreal masterpieces of food stylist and photographer Ashwin Iyer, aka the magicplateman.
The bed of white is a bed of spicy peas and mint rice, with caramelised onion and raisin jam, peas puree, beetroot and cherry chutney, picked radish and raisins, and crispy peas making up the rest of the edible ensemble.
A former IT engineer turned food stylist, Iyer was also a MasterChef India 5 Top 16 contestant in the season that aired on TV last year.
“I am art lover, an abstract artist who forayed into IT by chance, and then transitioned into cooking and food styling,” says the 37-year-old. “The plate to me is another medium to express my creativity. My styling is mainly (not restricted to) modern minimalistic with a lot of negative space on the plate. I am also strongly influenced by Japanese aesthetics and the concept of Wabi-sabi (finding beauty in imperfection),” he adds.
“I think I am a rather good cook,” says Iyer, who adds that it was his mother who got him started. “I used to ask her for recipes over the phone during my onsite travels for my IT job. And then started trying to develop my own recipes. I try to give our regular food an interesting twist. While colours and textures play an important role in my recipe development process, I ensure that, in the end, the flavours come together just like the presentation,” he adds.
What Iyer does is try to present traditional dishes with a modern outlook and increase awareness amongst people about the importance of food aesthetics.
“As an experimental cook and recipe developer, I understand food and visually highlight it in the best way possible to maximise the dining experience. I explore current food trends and incorporate them into my styling. Some of the trends that I have adapted into my styling are dam food, minimalism, splats etc,” he says. In other words, lumps of rice are lined up to form reefs of white and yellow gravies turned into seas (dam food), tapioca crisps are shaped to look like oysters holding forth pearls of pomegranate… the creations are endless.
“I have travelled extensively and understand various cuisines,” says Iyer, who styles different cuisines like Indian, Asian, Italian, and Mediterranean, and even conducts food styling classes. “I also consult with restaurants, food photographers and food start-ups,” he says.
Quite a plateful there.