Just as artists work with paints and canvas or clay, chefs create masterpieces with everything from carrots to crayfish. But whereas painters and sculptors have museums to display their creations, most chefs only have plates; their “displays” are limited to the short stretch during which a diner admires their meal before digging in. Endang Supriatna may have found the perfect solution, however. He’s taken his art to sea.
The hallmark of garde-manger
I met Supriatna as an invited guest on a week-long cruise to Alaska aboard the Carnival Legend. Working with some of the same items that are probably sitting in your kitchen, he turns ordinary edibles into eye-catchers; you could say he has all the ingredients for a dream job. “I am the only culinary artist on board, and I carve vegetables and fruits and create ice carvings from huge blocks of ice. Sometimes I create paintings for special occasions,” Supriatna said in an e-mail interview.
Working magic on melons
For the average home cook, cutting watermelon can be a messy chore. But Supriatna does not see the awkward fruit you and I see. He sees potential.
Supriatna carves two dozen or so watermelons on every week-long cruise. His carvings vary in shape and size, just like his juicy, circular canvases. From salty sea creatures to detailed portraits, the results often decorate the ship’s Lido Restaurant. It’s common to see cruisers struggling to balance a loaded plate in one hand and a camera in another as they attempt to snap photos of the sculpted spheres.
You can see Supriatna at work firsthand during a weekly demonstration at The Golden Fleece Steakhouse. Silently and swiftly, he creates melon magic in less than an hour. There is thought and precision with each graceful cut, but Supriatna has a knack for making his skill look effortless. What might be even more impressive, however, is his ability to create in a wide variety of mediums. Though I saw more watermelons than anything else, every now and then a new showpiece would pop up.
Red onions and radishes cut to create colorful blooms, then perfectly arranged in a prickly pineapple vase: Supriatna’s edible bouquet decorated the buffet area surrounding the chocolate fountain on our last day at sea. You might have mistaken the arrangement for real flowers, especially since it sat somewhat in the shadow of a glistening ice sculpture, which also happened to be Supriatna’s handiwork.
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As an adult, Supriatna has worked hard to develop his craft, but he says he had inspiration to create from an early age.
“My father is an architect, and (he) influenced and motivated me when it comes to carving and art,” Supriatna said. “Besides creating/designing houses, he often does artwork, such as sketches, paintings, drawings and wood carvings. … I’d always watch and try to learn from him.”
From the visual to the culinary arts
In fact, Supriatna pursued an art degree in college. After graduation, he worked in several hotels as an artist. It was there that food became part of the plan. “I became more interested in seeing how the chefs worked to create beautiful and delicious dishes. To me, that’s a form of art,” he said.
So off to culinary school he went. He graduated one of the top three in his class, and in 2000 he set sail with Carnival Cruise Lines as an ice carver, fulfilling his dream of seeing other parts of the world in the process.
“I’ve also gotten the opportunity to see real works of art from some of my favorite maestros, like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Dali,” Supriatna said.
Cooking at sea and at home
When he’s not wowing cruisers with his carvings, Supriatna also cooks. Responsible for cold-food production and presentation on board the ship, he has nearly a dozen chefs working under his supervision.
His work schedule is demanding. Supriatna typically spends six months at sea before getting two months at home in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, with his wife and two sons.
“At home I give command of the kitchen to my wife, but once a week I’ll cook for them. I usually make my special mushroom and shrimp risotto, which they love,” Supriatna said. “And yes, sometimes I’ll still do carvings, but I try to limit it to special events only.”
Main photo: A sample of Supriatna’s work. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann