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Saving the planet through innovative culinary design

Developed in consultation with EPIC Otago Polytechnic R&D centre and The Food Design Institute at Otago Polytechnic, chefs will be able to produce large quantities of artistically designed food products by hand on a commercial scale with a small team, and at a reduced cost. This could be particularly helpful at fancy, large-scale events, such as banquets or product launches, where guests often expect a certain quality and aesthetic appearance to what they’re eating – which, unfortunately, also creates a lot of waste and is terribly expensive to make.

Otago Polytechnic’s Timothy Lynch, who lectures on sustainability in the food industry, says they wanted to present ingredients in a way that was consistent with “multisensory” food design concepts. “The process involves working with natural products to design handcrafted foods that look identical to fruit and vegetables but are filled with contrasting flavours,” he says. “Initially we couldn’t find a way to make these products on a small scale, but a collaboration with the EPIC helped us overcome several barriers, and we were able to develop a method of crafting the lifelike products using food-grade silicon moulds, which we made ourselves.”

Lynch says a project of this scale and complexity would require international assistance and a large team of scientists and food specialists. This would have made the project cost-prohibitive by New Zealand industry standards, he says. “Thanks to the ingenuity of some of our colleagues and the dedication of our staff and students we have managed to find a way to bring these food creations to life.”

Senior lecturer Tony Heptinstall, who has catered for Prince Charles and other British royal family members, says one of the objectives was to increase current industry capital through being part of an innovative collaboration between the food industry and education.

“We were conscious that in order to inspire the students we needed to take on a challenge that solved a real-world problem and used design thinking at the same time,” he says. “The technique involves making edible fruit and vegetables replicas from vegan white chocolate and So Good milks,” says Heptinstall. The hand moulded products are then filled with a variety of contrasting recipe combinations using a diverse range of readily available ingredients including the nut milks.

“It’s not every day that you get to have a dhal curry which is encased in tumeric chocolate and presented in a red or green chilli shell or an apple pie smoothie presented in an apple hanging on a tree,” says Heptinstall. “We’ve got a series of other quite contrasting flavours all designed to ‘shake up’ what a plant-based diet can look like. What we’re doing is not only highlighting the design evolution of the food we are able to create, but also embrace the contemporary movement towards flexitarian and vegetarian diets.

“People are looking at food from not just a taste and health consideration but from a sustainability and environmental perspective.”

Sanitarium’s marketing business manager Hayley Scott, who approached the Otago Polytechnic with the challenge, says the outcome surpassed their expectations. “We approached the polytechnic to help us come up with a way to show Kiwis how non-dairy milks can be used creatively in kitchens around the country. Throughout their collaboration with their students and colleagues they have completely embraced this challenge and we have been amazed at what they have been able to produce.”

A proof of concept display was created in the form of an entirely human-made, edible garden, where more than 3,000 hand-crafted fruit and vegetables were made available to the public to sample last week in Auckland’s Britomart.

Eat up – sustainably.

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