Making magic with nature’s bounty

23rd July 2021 | Alison Turner

Italian-trained chef Daniele Barresi has found international fame in the food arena, but it’s not due to his cooking. The former pastry chef has turned artist, transforming fruits and vegies into intricately exquisite sculptures with the kind of jaw-dropping skill that has led some to dub him “the Michelangelo of fruit and vegetables”.

Barresi’s extraordinary works of art have garnered him almost 90,000 followers on Instagram. What’s even more astonishing is that his skills are entirely self-taught.

Watermelon is one of Barresi’s favourite fruits to work with.

“Eleven years ago, I went to a wedding in Italy, and I saw this beautifully-carved pumpkin,” the Sydney-based artist tells Eativity. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to do’. So I went home and I started practising. I tried with an apple first, and carved an ugly bird. But for me, it’s still one of most beautiful things I’ve ever made, because it ultimately led to the opportunity for me to be doing what I’m doing now.”

Barresi is now a two-time winner of the World Association of Chefs Societies fruit and vegetable carving competition. The first time he entered, in 2013, he did so because he thought it might be a good way to meet other professionals in the field and see what he could learn from them. He ended up winning. He then won again in 2014.

The artist’s avocado creations have gone viral worldwide.

While Barresi can create designs of animals, birds, fish and plants with almost any fruit or vegetable – and also works with materials such as cheese, soap and resin – it was his artistry with avocados that saw him really carve his way into the big leagues.

“Where I come from in Italy, there weren’t any avocados in the market,” he says. “So when I came to Australia six years ago, I was like, ‘Oh, here’s something new – let’s try it’.

“When I carved my first avocado, it got something like 3 million views. So that avocado changed my life, because since that avocado, I’ve had opportunities to work with big brands like the Hilton Hotel Group in New York; they commissioned my carvings on soap.”

Barresi has also created carvings for Westfield, Harris Farm Markets, the Cartoon Network and international watch and jewellery company Klasse14. This year he even sculpted special carvings of watermelons and strawberries for an International Women’s Day event, at which he met Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne.

The vegan fairy arises to ensure you never look at broccoli the same way again.

Considering there are so many people stuck at home right now, and since idle hands are apparently the devil’s workshop, Eativity just had to ask Barresi how locked-in Aussies might be able to have a go at carving their own fruit and vegetable masterpieces.

“You can use a paring knife, as they have a sharp blade and a pointy tip,” he says. “The easiest vegetable I suggest you start with is probably a zucchini, because the consistency between the skin and the insides is pretty much the same. A watermelon is too hard on the outside and too watery on the inside; you need a bit more skill to carve one of those. And an avocado is very soft, so I don’t suggest you try that to start off with.”

There are simple tutorials you can follow on Barresi’s YouTube channel, and he has also published a book, which starts with simple decorations, and moves on to more difficult compositions before getting into fruit and vegetable sculptures. So go forth, budding sculptors, and create something magical. It might just lead to a whole new career.