Hacking Fake Food

Ever seen a restaurant where they display fake models of the food on the menu? We never thought much about how shokuhin sampuru — the Japanese name — were made until we watched [Process X]’s video showing a 71-year-old artist creating food models. We aren’t sure what we — or you — would do with this information, but it is a striking process, and there must be something you could do with it. We suggest turning on the English captions, but you’d probably enjoy watching the unusual craftsmanship even with no words.

In years past, the food models were primarily made from wax, but since the 1980s, it is more common to use polyvinyl chloride, silicone, and resin. While some factories produce items, sometimes with a mold, single craftsmen like the one in the video still make up the largest part of the market.

We aren’t sure, but we think the material in the video is wax. We couldn’t help but think that some of this could have been 3D printed, but even with the finest resins and resolution, it probably wouldn’t be quite as artistic. We think wax is mainly underutilized in today’s tech. But there are some places it still shows up.

24 thoughts on “Hacking Fake Food

    1. Technically, high art refers to the classics in art and the old masters, while things like garden gnomes, paintings of dogs playing poker, or fake food, is “low art” or Kitsch because it’s done for popular appeal. I.e. it’s made deliberately to be pretty or curious, but not much more.

      1. Especially in the age of youtube, people tend to make things in deliberately complicated and contrived ways in order to amuse their viewers. What makes it “kitsch” is when the viewers mistake and praise this as artistry.

          1. We all ‘create’ excrement, each log a unique snowflake.
            The art was thinking to can it.
            Look it up, genuine ‘merd de artiste’ worth $$.

            Some rich Youtuber should buy a can and open it for the outrage clicks.

            ‘Creative’ is like ‘alpha’. If you have ever, in your life, described yourself with these terms, you are just kidding yourself.

          2. >creative skill or ability

            Yes, but that wasn’t the point. People mistake the convolutions for artistry, but that’s just showing off, like juggling bottles when the point is to pour a cocktail. The skill or ability doesn’t matter for what is actually being created.

      2. OK, I was technically incorrect, which is of course the worst kind of incorrect, but I was referring to the way Japan’s way of taking the ordinary and making it into something overly complex, the Japanese Tea Ceremony for instance, when we in the west just put a bag in a cup.

        1. I see what you are saying, but when you use the adjective, “overly”, you will find room for discussion. What some cultures might even value as “part of the experience and reason for doing it”, others find to be excessive or without value. I suspect it has a lot to do with the environment in which you were first exposed to it. “Tradition” has it’s own appeal in some cases.

      3. Which is why all pop-art isn’t art. Andy Warhol’s works and the like are lower art per your definition, right? Art is hard to define. What was once junk and unsellable (think of Van Gogh), can later be art. Was it art when it was created?

        1. Kinda. The first guy to do it had a point, but people who do pop-art after Warhol and the rest are just “inventing more gunpowder”. Art is a point of view, and when you’re imitating someone else you’re not really adding your own.

        2. The whole point of “pop-art” is to recycle imagery from popular culture, so besides some form of irony or using it for social commentary, it’s really just re-creating mass produced fashionable decorative items. If an artist does so in some convoluted way, the result won’t be different from a factory made object.

    2. I mean for stuff like this part of it is simple population density facilitating labor specialization.

      Like, plenty of restaurants will do DIY food pictures then get them professionally printed up for menus etc. but if there is a good food photographer with cheap enough rates in your city it can easily make sense to just hire the pro. Same thing here. Why do DIY pictures or display models when everybody in the industry knows there’s a pro down the street offering a great product that can probably even do it faster and cheaper than you could as a DIYer?

    3. They realized 800 years ago what we’re still struggling with: that anyone can have decent stuff and if you really want to do conspicuous consumption, you hire an artist to make custom stuff just for you.
      In this specific case, Japanese food was quite limited in variety: you ate what people grew locally. When international cuisine hit Japanese restaurants, they combined artistry with showing people what these weird exotic foods like stuff SHIPPED ALL THE WAY FROM HOKKAIDO ooooh! actually looked like so people would be comfortable with trying it.
      We could have used this in the US. I remember my grandparents saying “I don’t even know what italian food looks like.” It’s just that in Japan the fake food custom stuck. Chinese and some Mexican restaurants sometimes have pictures of food in menus here, but American-food restaurants very rarely do.

        1. Physical models or even pictures let even the illiterate or foreign tourist eat out without issue.
          They can just point at the food they want.
          Choosing food from written menus in foreign restaurants ends up in comedy sketches far too often.

  1. I’ve had candles left on the windowsill melt in the UK. Wax seems like an odd choice for Japan and especially for a restaurant, known for having hot things. Is this a different wax?

    1. This does look like regular candle wax, and I’m guessing you do have to be careful with these models. You couldn’t really clean them (plus menus change), so they will have a finite lifespan anyway.
      You can make reusable “machinist’s wax” for CNC etc. by dissolving LDPE (shredded milk jugs) in a roughly equal amount of paraffin wax, and that holds up to handling a lot better.
      But in this case I guess the whole point is it melts at low enough temperatures that he can work it plasticly by hand.

    2. “Wax” isn’t a particular chemical, but a description of pretty much *any* organic compound that is solid at ordinary ambient temperatures but melts into a low-viscosity fluid “somewhere” above that. Don’t want your thing to melt in a particular environment? Just pick a wax which doesn’t.

  2. Yes indeed he’s using wax, the technique is called Encaustic. You can see in the first minutes of the video he has cans with colors inside a container with water, and this contianer over an electric stove.
    The tubes of paint can be read “Zinc White” and is oil paint with is misible in wax and is how you pigment the wax.
    Depending on the application, mostly bleached bee’s wax with rosin (or somatimes Damar resin) is used. From time to time you can see parafin also used mixed in

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