Think the only time you can carve a pumpkin is Halloween? Think again! Byron Bay Artisan Gitta Radau shows us how she transforms humble fruits and veg into breathtakingly beautiful sculptures.
When it comes to enjoying a cool sweet slice of watermelon on a hot summer’s afternoon, most of us don’t think to go any further than lopping off a few triangular chunks. But for Gitta Radau from Melon As Anything, the humble watermelon holds the possibility of a delicate rose, an intricate orchid or a complex Mandela.
“Everything about this craft inspires me,” says Gitta, who started carving after her son showed her a video on YouTube. “The fruits and vegetables are beautiful to touch, and the colours of the watermelon are so exquisite from the fuchsia pink centre, to the delicate white frosting, and deep green tones of the outer skin.”
“I thought if I can learn to crotchet a beanie via YouTube, surely I could carve a watermelon. So I did and I was hooked!”
Gitta – and many other artisans across the globe – are bringing to life the ancient art of Thai fruit carving (or Kae Sa Luk) once reserved for entertaining royalty in Chaiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
“I find it very relaxing and meditative,” says Gitta. “I can carve anywhere, in the garden (the bush turkeys love me), in a cafe, or over a cuppa at the local farmers' markets. All I need is my knife, which I always carry in my handbag.”
Starting out making gifts for friend’s wedding and dinner parties, Gitta then studied with Master Carver Khun Narata in Northern Thailand, and has since been back a second time to further develop her craft.
What started out as a fun hobby creating gifts for friends, Gitta now carves her exquisite pieces for functions, weddings, restaurants and even funeral blessings. ”What could be more beautiful than ‘Art-t-depart? I have been overwhelmed with positive responses to my sculptures and I delight in people enjoying them - I think everything tastes better when it's been made with love and care.”
Keen to try the art yourself? Here are some pointers before you get started…
1. Go online for inspiration
Google ‘watermelon carving’ and you’ll see just how popular edible sculpture has become in recent years. “Chefs and culinary artisans all over the world share their designs and techniques on Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms,” says Gitta.
“There are certain basic techniques to learn and then the rest is in the creative department. It's actually easier than you might think and you could surprise your friends and family with delicious, edible, handmade gifts.”
2. Arm yourself with the right tools
“I started with a kitchen paring knife, but I would most certainly recommend a Thai Carving Knife,” says Gitta. “They are about the size of a pen and so beautiful to use. Nothing compares. I also carve locally made soaps and use the same knives for this, as well as other soap carving tools.”
3. Don’t be scared of making mistakes
“Whenever I made a so called 'mistake' with my teacher, she would laugh and say, 'doesn't matter - it's art' and simply fill 'mistake cut' with another carved flower or a hand carved leaf (using melon skin). It's easy to purchase exact from factory shelf, but handmade is filled with learning curves.”
To hone your skills, Gitta recommends going to workshops, something that she herself offers on a by-appointment basis in Byron Bay. Otherwise, you can learn the way Gitta did – on YouTube! Just start carving.
5. Don’t just limit yourself to watermelons
You can also try zucchini, cantaloupe, eggplant, pumpkins and kumara, potato or radishes.
“Small soaps are a wonderful way to practice new designs and ideas,” says Gitta. “Pumpkins are great for intricate detail as they last longer and can be kept fresh for say 4-5 days max. Taro is another great carving canvas, but needs to be kept in a bowl of lemon water to keep it from turning black. A great little trick is to have a beetroot on hand and simply touch the tips of radish/potato roses for an exquisite colour effect.”
6. Safety first
“Be mindful while carving,” says Gitta. “As with any craft involving knives, these blades are very sharp and I always carry bandaids for tiny nicks.”