by Karin Niedermeier
Globe Pequot Press, 96 pp.
Review by Bill Marsano.
This book surprised me because when it comes to food (and most other things, come to think of it, or them) I am an old fogey. And before that a young fogey. Let others go with the flow: When I hear the word 'fusion' I release the safety catch on my revolver. As it were. A lot of chefs are just showing off or playing with their food: The late crazes for 'tall food' and Spanish foamed food come to mind, as does that restaurant in Chicago that serves liquefied stuff in hypodermic syringes.
Nevertheless, Karin Niedermeier charmed me with her artistic creations made of pizza and pizza dough. They're imaginative and pretty, and they have other qualities. For one, to enjoy her art you have to make the pizza yourself, which I heartily recommend (for that you need Charles and Michele Scicolone's "Pizza: Any Way You Slice It," by far the best of such books I've read).
For another, this is an excellent way to get children into the kitchen (indeed there's a special children's section in this book). Finally, Niedermeier, who is of Asian background, focuses on a specifically Japanese quality called "katachi no aji," which means "the flavor of the shape." In short, presentation counts, not just in the plating of food but in the visual appeal of the food itself.
Among the artist-inspired designs I liked best were those conjuring up Picasso, Magritte, Mondrian, Frank Stella and Keith Haring, to say nothing of a Hokusai that is truly a knockout. There are many others that come from broader stylistic inspirations: Egyptian, Greek, Art Nouveau, for example, and a few that are just plain giddy. Niedermeier calls this "funny food," but that sells it short, I think. It's fresh response to a taken-for-granted staple, and it will wake up your next tray of canapes. And the photography shows everything off splendidly. In fact, I wanted to reach into the page and start eating.
--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor, and a home pizza-maker.