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An Uncommon Touch

Watching ceramic artist Zestro Leow working a neon blue lump into crafted form, I would never have thought that the material was anything but clay. Sure, it bore an uncanny resemblance to the electric blue Playdoh I remembered from childhood but, otherwise, the malleability and behaviour of this medium seemed right at home on the wheel.

What’s on the wheel today?

Those privy to the process of its creation, however, would be aware that, unlike your traditional ceramic forms that are meant to hold the edible, the form emerging from this wheel is edible in itself. That’s right – you can have your pot and eat it!

For the occasion of their duo show at SPRMRKT at STPI, a multi-concept bistro that ties together food, art and retail, artists Fyon Cheong and Zestro Leow of ceramic studio Common Touch Craft Unit have teamed up with Chef Marc of SPRMRKT to offer a special item on the restaurant menu. The item in question is a Filipino-style tsokolate that will come with marshmallows served in a dainty pitcher crafted from a fondant and gum paste mixture, which Cheong and Leow have been developing for the past month.

Tsokolate (Image courtesy of SPRMRKT)

To create the recipe for these edible vessels, Cheong and Leow embarked on a long and winding journey. Chef Marc shared that they initially had their hearts set on crafting something using chocolate, but he advised them otherwise, as the chocolate was unlikely to survive as a vessel for liquid in our humid climate. They then tried to concoct a mixture out of marzipan which, while able to hold its form, was not malleable enough. The Common Touch duo also explored the idea of using maltose – but a quick consultation with the chef alerted them to maltose’s un-clay-like characteristics.

Ultimately, their recipe turned out to look something like this:

1 portion fondant
1 portion gum paste

Mix well by hand, adding shortening to the mixture as needed, until it assumes the consistency of clay. Before working with this mixture on the potter’s wheel, coat your hands with a layer of shortening.

The simplicity of this recipe belies the challenges that it poses to its creator, especially at the potter’s wheel. Despite his years of training as a ceramic artist, Leow said that working with fondant often felt like starting anew as a craftsman, because of how differently it behaved compared to clay:

“The margin of error is far greater when it comes to throwing fondant. When I work with clay, I can rely on the intuition and experience that I have built over the years, to achieve a predictable outcome. I know the material and can work with it in a more flexible, organic manner. With fondant, I find myself turning to measuring quantities more precisely as a way to narrow this margin of error.”

Leow sculpts and trims the fondant vessel in a single sitting.

The process of bringing this mongrel creature to life highlights the artistry and chemistry that are fundamental to both food and art. Put too little shortening, and the fondant mixture would be too brittle to sculpt. Take too long on the potter’s wheel, and it falls apart. One must take the time to develop the craftsmanship involved when dealing with the medium, whether clay or food, or something in between.

The perils of spending too long on the wheel – things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

The concept of marrying food and art, while not new, is always interesting to behold. This intersection between the two forms also means that the challenges that it poses are two-fold. But if it means that us gallery goers might sample art with more senses than just our common touch, then I say, why not?



Curious about edible pottery? Watch a live edible pottery demonstration at the opening of The Common Touch Craft Show at 6:30 pm on 15 November 2019 at  SPRMRKT at STPI.  From 16 November 2019 to 9 February 2020, you can order the Filipino Style Tsokolate which has been specially created to accompany The Common Touch Craft Show (on view during this period). Each order of this drink will be served with an edible vessel handcrafted by Common Touch for this occasion. Bon Appetit!

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