The Chef Who Carves Traditional Patterns Into Fruits and Vegetables - Gastro Obscura
Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

The Chef Who Carves Traditional Patterns Into Fruits and Vegetables

Japanese design meets produce.

A broccoli and a cauliflower carved with a <em>sayagata</em> motif.
A broccoli and a cauliflower carved with a sayagata motif. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto

Fruits and vegetables can be beautiful. Ask any artist who’s painted a still life. But for Japanese chef Takehiro Kishimoto, produce is his canvas and a knife is his paintbrush.

On his extremely popular Instagram account, Kishimoto carves everything from radishes to avocados. Some he turns into elegant flowers such as carrot peonies or chestnut roses. On occasion, he sketches popular anime characters into eggplants and apples. Other times, he etches geometric pattens into cross-sections of avocados and broccoli stalks.

Radishes like you've never seen them before.
Radishes like you’ve never seen them before. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto

Kishimoto, who is from the city of Kobe in southern Japan, started carving a little more than three years ago, and began posting his work on Instagram in mid-2016. At first, he says, he carved simple shapes, but eventually graduated to more difficult designs. He uses a sharp, thin knife, and the time each fruit or vegetable takes varies. For broccoli, it’s about an hour. Softer avocados takes two hours, while apples take three.

Many of Kishimoto’s designs are inspired by traditional Japanese patterns. Typically, such patterns are woven into cloth or embroidered, and can convey meanings and connotations. One, called bishamon tortoise, consists of upside-down Y shapes. Kishimoto carved that into an avocado. Another variation on bishamon, called kumikikkou, he carved into a papaya. Both are based on the patterns of a tortoise shell. They symbolize longevity and were used on warriors’ clothes. Another, maze-like design he has etched into broccoli and cauliflower is called sayagata. Sayagata has roots in ancient Buddhist art, and it originally came to Japan on Chinese fabrics hundreds of years ago. Why did Kishimoto choose these traditional patterns? The answer is simple: He thinks they’re cool.

The pattern carved into this apple is called "seigaiha," or blue sea wave.
The pattern carved into this apple is called “seigaiha,” or blue sea wave. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto/Shisma/Edited

Kishimoto refers to produce carving as “Thai” carving, because the masters of fruit carving are from Thailand. It’s an old tradition that originated from chefs cooking for the royal family. But Japan also has a history of food-carving. Mukimono, as it’s called, is hundreds of years old. By combining historical patterns and mukimono, Kishimoto has created something unique. News outlets have gushed over his work, and he says he’s been surprised by the attention.

And what happens to Kishimoto’s creations when he’s done? “I carve and eat it,” he says.

"Bishamon tortoise" motif, carved into an avocado.
“Bishamon tortoise” motif, carved into an avocado. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto
Imagine opening an avocado and seeing this.
Imagine opening an avocado and seeing this. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto
A white yuzu, carved as a flower.
A white yuzu, carved as a flower. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto
A carrot peony.
A carrot peony. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto
An example of turtle-shell motif.
An example of turtle-shell motif. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto
A turnip gets the star treatment.
A turnip gets the star treatment. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto
A round zucchini, carved with a peony pattern.
A round zucchini, carved with a peony pattern. Courtesy of Takehiro Kishimoto

Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
Sign up for our email, delivered twice a week.