Clare Crespo is a legend in cupcake circles. Her book Hey There, Cupcake! 35 Yummy Fun Cupcake Recipes for All Occasions is a bestseller amongst cupcakistas, and foodies generally. In it, she whips up delicious cupcakes decorated to look like everything imaginable.
There's a fried egg cupcake, an eyeball cupcake, a ball of wool cupcake and a hamburger cupcake topped with what looks like lettuce and tomato on a sesame seed bun. There's a honey cupcake topped with a flower and bees, 'cubcakes' decorated with the faces of pandas, grizzly bears and koalas [the latter have walnuts for tufty ears and are actually too adorable to eat], even a cola-flavoured cupcake stacked to look like a six-pack of soda. That was her second book. Her first was called The Secret Life of Food where food masqueraded as ordinary objects found around the home. Easy-to-follow recipes showed how to make a pair of thongs from a baked potato and string beans, a Jell-O aquarium with chewy fish swimming within, handwiches, a pants and shirt cake, tarantula cookies, spaghetti with eyeballs, spider web soup [both popular on Halloween] and a caterpillar cake made from chocolate snowballs. Crespo encouraged people to take a wildly creative approach to cooking, and the gorgeously-photographed book garnered praise from Vanity Fair to Newsweek.
"For me, food is an art supply," Crespo says in an exclusive interview with Living Creatively.
For me, food is an art supply
Crespo, who says her books are for children and adults, or anybody with a "colourful brain", learned how to bake from her Granny Helen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she was born. She says she's a baker not a cook, and that she loves baking's strict rules because it makes her feel like a scientist. She admits to having been obsessed with cupcakes since birth. She loves them because they're approachable, not too precious, the perfect size for a snack, and they speak to you in a way that biscuits and donuts, do not. She looks to Willy Wonka for inspiration.
"I think it's hard to figure out what inspires you, because you're probably being inspired all day long by all kinds of weird stuff - candy bars, a dream you don't think you remember, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. Definitely individuals inspire me ... Jane Goodall, Christopher Kimball, a lot of NBA players, Prince ... all these folks are artists, they are just really doing their thing."
But Crespo's creativity doesn't end with baking. Over the years she has produced TV commercials and music videos for Macy Gray and Whitney Houston, taught children's cooking classes in Los Angeles where she lives - moving there from Louisiana to take her masters in Experimental Animation at CalArts - and she has also knitted and crocheted food. So, it was probably only a matter of time before she turned her attention to other everyday items she could interpret with a crochet hook. Well, now she has, coming up with a range of amusing crocheted watches. They come in digital and analogue time, cost $US60 and are available at the New Museum and Built by Wendy in New York City.
"Originally I made them for an art show in Los Angeles," says Crespo. "It was a 'Pawn Shop' and the curators asked different artists to make things to put in the "shop". Crocheted watches were born! My watches were in cases with little signs that said, "Works great!" and "Look! Digital!" They make me laugh because I think they are the ultimate luxury item for those that don't even need to know what time it is. I hope to be that person someday! I pretend I am one, and I wear a small gold one!"
"The times are usually times of the day or night that are significant to me, but I like to use people's birthdays or their favourite time for commissions. It's fun to think about what time is your favourite, isn't it? Analogue and digital are both popular. Metallics are also a hit. So fancy! Ha-ha."
"I don't know how to use a pattern for any sort of yarn project. These weird things just sort of stitch themselves out of my hands. It's kind of funny because I could never make a sweater, but I could make a hamburger. They are selling well! I love it."
"I think to see the hands in something is so heartening in these days of technology. I think these things are more special than ever, because who has time to bake a cake, or knit a scarf when there are machines to do so. I applaud all folks making things with their hands! It's also such a soothing experience to cook or get your hands moving when they are used to tapping on a computer all day."
For Crespo, 2008 is going to see her on DVD in a new Kooking Series. A crazy cooking show for children, she has dreamed of doing it for years. It will be available through her website and Amazon.
"The Kooking Series is something I am SO excited about. I shot three episodes this summer ... each episode has three of my recipes and explores a theme [monkeys, springtime and Halloween]. There is animation and puppets and an amazing band. It is wild - sort of Pee Wee's Playhouse with food. It is certainly unlike any other cooking show and I am so excited to make more. I had been speaking to TV folks for years about doing it and no one ever really got it. It was too out there. But I knew it had to be out there for me to be proud of it. So I enlisted my very, very talented friends and family to help. I used to produce videos and my husband is a production designer. We built a set in my garage, now called the stage, and just did it. Talk about living creatively - we literally lived in my show all summer."
As if all that wasn't enough, Crespo will continue to operate her "secret mobile bakery" called Treat Street which she runs with some friends. On occasional days, the group of friends bake then set up shop on a randomly chosen local street corner and sell their goodies. "It's so satisfying ... like playing bakery."
"I just like moving around a lot, but I have been through a LOT of craft phases. I don't know what it is that I do exactly. I have a three-year-old and I also have the brain of a child. The first inspires the second for sure, and it also gives me licence to be a kook. Before I had my daughter I was a real weirdo, now all my nonsense looks like I am entertaining my child. Ha-ha. I am not sure what my title is but I wish it was Willy Wonka."
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