BY JOHN VAUGHN
BAJO EL SOL EDITOR
Watermelons to roses. Celery to cattails. Peppers to tulips.
Who but a magician could make such transformations?
Bob Gedeon can, but he doesn’t wave a wand. He’s a chef and culinary artist, and with some strategic cuts with a couple of basic kitchen knives he makes food tempt the eyes even before it reaches the palate.
“People usually eat with their eyes,” he said, “so if you can present it in a way that it looks as good as it tastes, people will just love it.”
Currently the sous-chef at Quechan Casino and Resort, Gedeon begins his first semester in the fall as a full-time culinary arts professor at Arizona Western College.
But in the meantime, he’s teaching the artistry of fruit cutting and ice carving as part of a series of mini-camps or seminars the college is offering to the public this summer to showcase its new culinary arts and technical education programs.
Apparently the fruit-cutting class is much-anticipated. The first one slated for this Friday was all reserved two weeks in advance, but Rateeka Dhawan, AWC’s dean for career and technical education, says people will have another chance to take it in July.
Gedeon also will teach an ice carving class this summer, while camps taught by other part-time instructors will cover such topics as cookie and chili making.
The fruit-cutting camp is aimed at everyone, whether students plan to make their careers in the food industry, or whether they just want to make the serving trays or table centerpieces more enticing at family get-togethers.
One lesson Gedeon wants participants to take away is that cooking is not all drudgery — that the culinary arts lend themselves to creative touches that can bring new-found enjoyment to those who work in a kitchen.
Another takeaway — one that students probably know already — is the food tastes better if it looks good on the plate.
“If you can cook, you can cook. But if you can be creative ... like I say, people eat with their eyes. Presentation is a big, important part of everything.”
With a standard paring knife and a tourne knife — a knife with a short curved blade — he can turn a watermelon others might serve as slices into a bouquet of roses. The fruit-cutting camp will show that process as well as how to turn a celery into frilly cattails and peppers into tulips.
Fruit sculpting, he says, is limited only by the imagination of the culinary artist. “I’ve done oysters out of papayas ... I’ve done a monkey on the side of a papaya.” One of the chefs at the Q made an octopus out of a watermelon.
He’ll also work with other kinds of food as mediums. “I’ve done roses out of smoked salmon, and I’ve taken cream cheese and molded it to look like fish.”
Food sculpting is one of the many skills he has acquired in a career of more than 35 years as an executive chef at hotels, resorts and country clubs, a restaurant owner, pastry chef and baker, chef aboard a dinner train, and as a student of the Culinary Institute of America. He gets stumped, he says, if someone asks him what his specialty is.
“The hardest thing for me to do is answer them, because I try to make myself versatile, in many different areas. What’s (my) specialty? You know, I try to do it all — that’s my specialty.”
Gedeon says much of his career has been devoted to teaching aspiring chefs to be creative and successful in what he considers one of the most demanding fields.
His goal at AWC “is to make sure they’re ready to walk into the workforce, ready to walk into a restaurant and know what needs to be done and how to do it,” he said. “It’s all outcome-based. They need to be able to walk into a job where they can have success — that is the biggest thing with me.”
The art of satisfying the palate, he says, is no less challenging in an era of greater dining sophistication among people and heighten concerns about food allergies. Gedeon says he thrives on those challenges and that his task will be to help his students to adapt to them.
“To me, one of the fun parts of the job is being able to create something special for people with special needs ... although I try to do that for everyone.”