The art of fruit and vegetable carving has its roots in the age of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906) and Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1279). This exquisite craft has been slowly developed and refined over the years throughout Asia, Europe and eventually America. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced world, this art form has been on a decline. Many chefs prefer to take the easier way out by using edible flowers and flower arrangements to make their food presentations more attractive.
“I know my time is limited, but when our customers see the unique presentation with carved fruits and vegetables, it not only makes us stand out from other caterers, it also creates a unique personality for every event we are hosting,” says Craig Trostle, owner and president of Greenery Caterers. In fact, he has expanded this ancient art form to new heights – literally. “For one event, I carved vegetables and fruits for about 35 hours to create an elaborate 32-foot buffet with flying birds and waterfalls, complete with flowing water and 6-foot palm trees carved from pineapples and other fruit.”
“These culinary accents give food presentations personality and visual impact,” continued Trostle, whose Greenery Caterers manages the Carriage House at Rockwood Park in North Wilmington, Delaware, a popular venue for weddings, receptions and other functions. “It’s one of the ways we make each event memorable.”
In 1978, Trostle opened the Greenery Restaurant that quickly became one of Wilmington’s most popular dining venues. Today Greenery Caterers is centered around the beautifully restored 150-year-old Carriage House located on the grounds of Rockwood Park, a historic 19th-century country estate in North Wilmington.
Trostle’s first attempt at creating a hand-carved accent did not go well. While visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the late ‘70s, he was inspired by a flock of seagulls in flight, and began turning a large Daikon radish into a bird. Using nothing more than his favorite knife, he quickly became frustrated by the results and tossed it into the trash. The concept stayed in his mind, and he continued to practice, eventually mastering the techniques this art form demanded. “Now my carved Daikon Bird is one of my finest accomplishments,” he boasts.
It joins a large repertoire of popular creations Trostle can call upon. Among the most requested are various flower designs carved from honeydews. “I really like the melon’s texture and the way the outer skin contrasts with the color of the interior.” Other popular accents include seagulls made from radishes and chrysanthemums made from watermelons.
Few varieties of produce have escaped his knife. Red, yellow and Sugar Baby watermelons, various types of cantaloupes, pumpkins, apples and a variety of radishes are just some of the fruits and vegetables he has turned into friendly creatures of the land, sea and air, plus many forms of flora. “I have a number of tools that I use, but for 90% of my carvings, I use a small knife with a very sharp blade.”
There’s a secret in picking out a contender to become one of his creations, reveals Trostle. “The key is to select them before they have completely ripened. If they’re too soft, they can’t hold the fine details of the carving.”
It also leads to an abbreviated shelf life. “The right melon will last about a week, if it is tightly wrapped and properly stored in a refrigerator. During our busy season, it can get very crowded in there!”
Trostle’s carvings are the perfect finishing touch to Greenery Caterers’ culinary efforts. “Unlike some caterers who buy their food already prepared, then quickly dress it up with edible flowers and bouquets, we create our meals completely from scratch and then finish with some of my carvings. For us, presentation and food quality go hand-in-hand.”
Trostle has honored many special requests from his clients. Often, he is asked to carve a corporate logo. Other requests have put his talent to the test. “I carved an airplane out of terra root for a company located at the Wilmington Airport, and the racehorse Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, which was used in an HBO Special.”
This year’s Super Bowl found Trostle challenging his carving skills and creativity when he added an impressive Super Bowl centerpiece to his ever-growing list of food creations. He saw his finished creation – an eagle preparing to fly – as a prediction of victory. “I always knew they would win,” he says, “ and expect to recreate it again next year in honor of another Super Bowl victory!”