I met my friend Clare Crespo in Los Angeles about 15 years ago. We came together through mutual friends, and bonded immediately (and strongly) over our shared passion for over-the-top holiday celebrations. Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos took top billing, with both us of drawn to the delicious mix of macabre and festival inherent in those holidays.
But we weren't overly particular: we embraced any opportunity to put on a costume, decorate the house, create handmade party favors... and cook, eat, and drink. We just loved the ritual of it all.
It was Clare, a Lousiana native, who really triggered my love for Mardi Gras. Her dad arriving at the house one night straight off the plane with an ice chest full of fresh crawfish may have upped the ante just a bit.
I was reminded of all of this last week when I walked in to Heath Ceramics in Los Angeles and caught the tail end of Clare’s wonderfully fantastical installation L’aissez Les Bon Crochet Rouler – a play on the saying "laissez les bons temps rouler," which translates as “let the good times roll.” The show featured a Mardi Gras feast of goodies served atop Heath ceramics, with Clare’s special unique crafty spin: all the food was crocheted! Think beignets, oysters, crawfish po’boys, and seafood gumbo – re-imagined in yarn. Magical. I wanted to bring the whole spread home with me.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg for her food art. After garnering much acclaim for her books The Secret Life of Food and Hey There, Cupcake, Clare created The Yummyfun Kooking series (a set of DVDs for children featuring puppets, animation, and a whole cast of crazy characters including Clare as Yummyclare), and the newly launched Yummyfun Kooking Club, a monthly snail-mail recipe subscription replete with surprise handmade treats (like March’s origami pie slices).
Visit www.yummyfun.com to get a taste of Clare’s magical food-inspired world.
Ah – and she also takes custom commissions if your cravings dictate a little food-inspired knit wear.
I interviewed her for HAND/EYE online, and this is me and Clare:
Laura: Tell me about Yummy Fun: how did you get started, how is it going, who LOVES yummy fun?
Clare: I think Yummyfun started when I was a kid. I always loved playing with my food, and luckily my parents didn't (or couldn't!) stop me. I was always the one making the crazy birthday cake, or having a flipped-out theme party. After college, I worked as a producer of music videos and commercials, but was always having weird art shows of funny pies and cakes and crocheted food, and self-publishing little cookbooks on the side. I finally decided to quit my job and try making the thing I loved my job even though it made no sense to anyone around me!
I designed the first version of www.yummyfun.com which was little animated cartoons of my funny recipes (Jell-O Aquariums, Sushi Cake, etc.) My first book deal somehow came out of my site: "The Secret Life of Food" (Hyperion Books 2002). That book did well, and allowed me to do another book "Hey There, Cupcake!" (Melcher Media 2004).
I had really always wanted to make a kid's cooking show but could never seem to find a network that would take the risk to do something super far out, so I gathered my talented pals from the music video days, and my talented husband (production designer, James Chinlund) built an amazing set in our two car garage, and we shot three episodes of The Yummyfun Kooking Series (available on DVD!)
I am very proud of it because all sort of kids love it! Then I started the Yummyfun Kooking Club which is a recipe subscription in ye olde fashioned mail (not email!) which is super super fun! Basically, I just keep climbing up Yummyfun Mountain to discover the next surprise.
How does it relate to your obviously strong craft skills? Did the work with food come out of your love of craft? Or your love of food?
With my books, and all of the Yummyfun stuff, I am making real food look like it is not food (monkeys pops), or at least like it is not the food that it really is (sushi cupcakes). With the crocheted food, and the soft sculpture cupcakes and stuff, I am making fabric and yarn look like it IS food.
Maybe I have a screw lose.
My grandfather was a dentist. He used his dental tools to make jewelry and little sculptures. I think he taught me to try to be creative in my every day activitites. I like to cook. I like to feed people. It makes sense to me that my studio is in my kitchen. And with the string craft, it is an extension of that love of food and cooking. It is fun (and funny) to imagine making someone's mouth water by showing them a hamburger made of yarn.
You show a lot of childlike wonder and happiness on your website and in the food work. Where does that come from?
Somehow, I managed to grow up while still believing that magical things can happen in the world. Phewwwww! I feel lucky because of that.
I feel honored to be able to converse with kids and hear their magical thoughts and glimpse their open minds. In return, I have to try to keep my mind open so that they will keep talking to me!
Do you have a favorite story about your work?
This year, someone sent me a picture of their kid dressed up for Halloween as Green Charlotte, a character from The Yummyfun Kooking Series. Charlotte is a 13 year old who swallows seeds, and grows produce out of her ears. Yummyclare (my character) goes to her garden to get fresh ingredients for her recipes.
That picture of a 5 year old dressed trick-or-treating as Green Charlotte made me fall down with joy. If I never accomplish another thing, I will still be so satisfied with that one result of the Kooking show. That makes it all worthwhile to me!
Do you think I am a nut?
Maybe, but so am I.
For more of Clare’s nuttiness, please see www.yummyfun.com. And see what Laura Aviva is up to at www.lavivahome.com.