How Miniature Food Sculptor Shay Aaron Does Breakfast
"I didn’t used to have breakfast regularly, but lately I find it crucial. I guess it's because I'm getting old."
Tel Aviv-based artist Shay Aaron creates miniature food sculptures that are meticulously detailed, remarkably realistic, and look delectable enough to eat. Using polymer clay, acrylic paint, and resin, he sculpts delicate slices of watermelon, sugar-dusted croissants, andhighly appealing meals like a breakfast-in-bed plate that includes bowls of muesli, tiny spoons, and a glistening jug of orange juice. Aaron also makes wearable pieces, like pancake cufflinks, fried eggs earrings, and an avocado-and-spoon necklace. Informed by the work of miniaturist Angie Scarr, Aaron is motivated by “the challenge of getting a miniature replica to look as realistic as possible, but only in one inch.” In many of his Instagram photos, a person’s thumb or a solitary, unlit match appears, giving his admiring followers (which now number over 83,000) an approximate sense of scale. I spoke with the artist about his ideal breakfast, how to render salmon steaks in miniature, and a long-time dessert project a favorite client has commissioned.
Extra Crispy: So, what did you have for breakfast this morning?
Shay Aaron: I drank a can of cold latte and had a bowl of muesli, but with no fresh fruit like I usually do because I was in a rush to make a meeting. I didn’t used to have breakfast regularly, but lately I find it crucial. I guess it's because I'm getting old.
What’s your dream breakfast? Where would you sit, what would you eat, who would you share it with?
I love the idea of starting the day with two fresh-baked chocolate croissants and a bowl of fruit salad. I would love to have that simple meal in Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater house with three of my best friends. (Yep, you can tell I'm single.)
Do you have a typical morning routine? What does it usually entail?
I usually get up pretty late. I find it calmer and more inspiring to work at night. So once I'm awake and my teeth are brushed, I get my can of master café out of the fridge, turn on the radio, and start checking emails. I work from my home studio most of the time, but if I have a lot of networking tasks or projects to do that involve my laptop, I’d rather work in a coffee shop in my neighborhood.
How did you get into making miniature food sculptures?
I started making miniature pieces 10 years ago. I used to create small-scale creatures. Once, I was asked by a client-friend to create a miniature replica of a Passover Seder plate, which contains several symbolic foods in small portions. I knew then that I wanted to put my effort into making miniature food. The inspiration is endless, so I never get bored.
Your sculptures are very appetizing. Are any of them edible?
Oh no. They are made of polymer clay, painted with acrylic or pastel paint, and some of them are glazed with resin.
You work on custom projects, right? What has been your strangest commission so far?
I wouldn't call it the strangest, but the most thrilling piece I did for a customer was an engagement ring, shaped like a fortune cookie, with a little note saying, "Will you marry me?"
This is the sixth year, I think, that the same customer has asked for an anniversary ring for his wife. Each year he sends an image of a dessert his wife made, and I work on a miniature replica of it. I find it so romantic and charming.
How do you get that perfect golden glaze color on your pastries? It’s so alluring.
Over the years I’ve developed a specific technique for pastries crust and glaze, involving different combinations of colors and textures. I don't think I could get the perfect shade and texture in just one step. Most of my miniatures are made in multiple stages, starting with the basic shape, and then I apply layers of colors and clay.
Some of your pieces are made to be wearable, like earrings or cufflinks. Do you wear your own work? If so, what pieces do you wear most often?
I haven’t worn any of my pieces for years. I used to wear some of my necklaces (the falafel and the hoagie ones), and even pierced my ear in order to wear studs. I love seeing people wearing something I designed. Recently, I took a train north and saw a girl wearing my avocado earrings.
Your salmon steaks might be the most impressive, detail-intensive pieces of salmon steak I’ve ever encountered. Making all those intricate folds seems difficult. What’s the most challenging type of food you make, if not salmon steaks?
For the salmon steaks I used a technique I found in an Angie Scarr book, which needs to be credited. The salmon steak wasn’t the most the most complex piece to create. I think the most challenging project so far was the seafood collection, which I made a few years back. I wasn’t satisfied with the end result. Now it's back on my to do list. I feel like I have more tools and experiences to handle the collection properly.
This interview has been edited and condensed.