Fabric chef’s cuisine tantalizes taste buds
When I walked into Jeannie Martin’s Grand Junction kitchen last week, my mouth immediately began to water.
Everywhere I looked, baskets overflowed with tantalizing loaves of French bread, round pumpernickel and shepherd’s bread, Kaiser rolls and rounds of cheese with crackers and sausages.
On my right, a platter of frosted donuts beckoned. To the left, I swooned at strawberry turnovers, baked to a golden glow and drizzled with icing.
All those delicacies, but I couldn’t have even a taste. Martin, you see, has a secret. Each piece of her food, while blissfully free of calories, is inedible.
She kneads, molds and shapes them from cotton flannel, broadcloth and linen, sews them together, paints an oven-baked finish on them and decorates them with all manner of ornamentation (snippets of yarn double as grated Parmesan cheese).
This woman who cooks with cloth is known as The Fabric Chef. A solo show of Martin’s soft sculpture art — life-size baskets of bread and pastries and larger-than-life candied apples and bacon and eggs — is on exhibit through April at Around the Corner Art Gallery in Montrose.
Flannel works best for Martin’s bread loaves, she says, and if she wants wheat bread instead of white, she buys the cloth in a darker color.
Martin showed me an “uncooked” loaf, stuffed but still to be painted and trimmed, explaining how the fabric must be gathered at the ends to ensure a realistic outcome.
Her business of soft sculpture food started in 1997, but health problems put it on the back burner (so to speak) until last year, Martin says.
Now, she is pursuing pattern publishing and marketing her designs and artwork more aggressively. Eventually, consumers will be able to create their own baskets of cloth baked goods for home decor.
Martin’s goal is to elevate ordinary food into extraordinary art.
She also is focusing on the fine art aspect with her super-sized items, categorized as neo-pop art.
Martin says she has been influenced by pop artists such as Claes Oldenburg since her youth. She once created 5-foot-tall ice cream cones for a store display in Ouray, for example.
The challenge of making material look edible energizes Martin.
“It’s magical to start with an ordinary piece of fabric and create an illusion that confuses the senses,” she says.
For her huge candied apples, titled “Decadent Grannies,” she painted and folded broadcloth into thick layers of faux caramel pooling at the apples’ base.
“I use a lot of little tricks to get my special effects,” Martin says.
She’s also willing to go to great lengths for exactitude. She pulled up the roots of cottonwood trees and chopped them, then carved and painted them to resemble walnuts embedded in the caramel.
Though time-consuming, the work fascinates Martin because the larger-than-life pieces “change your perspective,” she says.
When sewing her fantasy foods, Martin does half of it by machine, the other by hand. It’s imperative that every stitch be hidden so as not to ruin the illusion.
Her large sculpture titled “No Trans Fat” is a fried chicken dinner with a 14-inch-long drumstick, biscuit and serving of green beans, sliced mushrooms and carrot coins large enough to sate the Jolly Green Giant himself.
Martin describes this meal as a parody on commercials that extol the virtues of fried foods without trans fats. Her fried chicken may not have any trans fats, but it’s definitely full of fiber.
Eat your heart out, Bobby Flay.
Email Sherida.Warner@ gjsentinel.com.