This year, Gastro Obscura explored some of the culinary world’s most visually-striking creations. In the hands of the right chef, raw meat can become an adorable little hedgehog, butter can be sculpted into a person’s face, and gingerbread can be transformed into New York City’s skyline. Sometimes delightful, other times disturbing, 2022 was a feast of food art.

How America Embraced Aspics With Threatening Auras

by Diana Hubbell, Associate Editor

From the truffle-studded towers of 18th-century royal banquets to the sword-skewered, lobster-crowned creations of fine-dining establishments in the late 1800s, aspic has long served as a platform for culinary showmanship. But in mid-20th century America, gelatin took a turn for the weird. In this delightful deep dive, Diana Hubbell explores why American cooks so enthusiastically embraced jelly creations that pushed the boundaries of good taste.

Gerry Kulzer sculpts butter in a refrigerated chamber at this year's Minnesota State Fair.
Gerry Kulzer sculpts butter in a refrigerated chamber at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. Star Tribune via Getty Images

How a Big Block of Butter Becomes a Masterpiece

by Sam O’Brien, Senior Editor

This September, I visited the Minnesota State Fair on a mission. While some seek out the fair’s deep-fried delights and prize-winning livestock, I came for the butter sculptures. Inside a large, refrigerated chamber, young women pose for an artist who sculpts their likeness from a 90-pound block of butter. The women are finalists in the Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition, which celebrates young workers in the local dairy industry. This year, for the first time in five decades, the competition had a new sculptor, Gerry Kulzer. I visited Kulzer in the butter booth and we spoke about how he trained for this unusual gig, what it’s like sculpting in a 40-degree chamber, and what the winners do with their butter busts when they’re finished.

The Bakers Transforming New York’s Buildings Into Gingerbread

by Sam Lin-Sommer, Editorial Fellow

Gingerbread houses tend to look like something out of “Hansel and Gretel”: tiny cottages with gumdrop doors and white-icing shingles. But at the Great Borough Bake-Off, gingerbread takes the form of New York skyscrapers, columned mansions, and even the Staten Island Ferry. Hosted by the Museum of the City of New York, the contest challenges both professional and amateur bakers to recreate New York scenes with gingerbread, icing, and candy. The winning entries are gorgeous, edible renderings of everything from Brooklyn brownstones to subway trains, all on display at the museum until January 8, 2023.

The mettigel charmed our readers this spring.
The mettigel charmed our readers this spring. PANTHER MEDIA GMBH / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Meet the Mettigel, Germany’s Hedgehog Sculpted From Meat

by Rachel Glassberg

A surprisingly adorable snack graces the tables at parties across Germany. It’s a small critter sculpted from raw pork, with onions for spikes and peppercorns for eyes. This is the mettigel, or the meat hedgehog, a German cult classic with roots dating back to the Middle Ages. In this piece, Rachel Glassberg looks into the roots of this unusual tradition and the artists elevating it to new heights (including crafting a “Mattigel Damon”).

How the Chinese Diaspora Feeds Itself, in 100 Dazzling Illustrations

by Sam Lin-Sommer, Editorial Fellow

In 2019, Chinese-British writer Jenny Lau launched a project where she interviewed chefs, food writers, and food artists across the Chinese diaspora. After her 100th interview, she celebrated the achievement with an exhibition, commissioning artists to illustrate the responses to the question “What does home taste like?” The resulting 100 pieces ranged from mantou buns floating in space, to beaming foragers hiking through the California wilderness, to a warmly-lit nighttime scene of a Taipei fried-chicken cart. Since the exhibition was digital, you can still see the 100 illustrations on the project’s website.

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