Carl Werner's foodscape of the London Skyline.
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Food Play

Jacqueline Sainsbury - March 2011

Forgetting manners and mothers' admonitions, Carl Warner digs in with both hands to create playful landscapes.

Some dream in black and white. Some in color. Yet others dream in mackerel and broccoli. Fantastical worlds of salmon skies, celery rainforests, mortadella mountains are generated under the creative eye of food artist and photographer Carl Warner.

As with so many stories, Warner's began one fine day in 1999, as he walked through a farmers' market in London. Spotting a pile of statuesque portobello mushrooms, he carried them back to his London studio. With years of experience as an advertising photographer, he concocted his first food landscape—an extraterrestrial landscape constructed from bread, beans, grains, and the mushrooms.

The foodscapes grew more elaborate as Warner created a portfolio over the next decade. Warner is occasionally able to construct scenes in one day with no assistance, such as Cabbage Sea (above), made of red cabbage, radicchio, zucchini, marrow squash, mange-tout, green beans, sugar snap peas, asparagus, seaweed, olives, and potatoes, but most require more and can take over a week with a team of workers.

London Skyline (top) was one of the most challenging scenes to deliver. To prevent wilting and browning, each part was constructed one at a time in place, with the help of model builders and food stylists, shot separately, and then the images compiled. "The pieces were left in their place so the shadowing would be correct," says Warner, "but by the time we worked our way from the left side all the way to the right, Parliament was falling apart."

Many of Warner's landscapes are commissioned by companies or agencies for advertising campaigns across the globe, while his installations have been smash hits at food shows in Asia and recently at the New York Chocolate show with a chocolate train chugging through a mountainous setting. Future plans include an animated TV series to teach kids about healthy eating, a calendar, and possibly a second book.

Like the trio of Salamiscapes, with pancetta trees and Parma ham waterfalls, the meaty Willy Wonka-esque visions tempt the visual appetite and provoke food play.