The Fake Food Cookbook

by Jay Duckworth

We are at that time of gift-giving, when we give things to people that we hope they will need and use. One of the gifts I received this summer and have used [Really, I did, see this month’s Answer Box] was a book that Tammy Honesty brought out to NYC on her last visit. The Fake Food Cookbook: Props You Can’t Eat for Theatre, Film, and TV created by Karestin Harrison and Tamara L. Honesty from Focal Press is a great new resource. I spoke with the authors to learn how the book came into existence.

Turns out when Karestin was the props person on the musical Spitfire Grill, and as the title suggests it takes place in a small restaurant she had a lot of breakfast food to make. Despite the many challenges that fake food poses she fell in love with the challenge. At the same time Karestin was attending school and wanted to work on something she loved for her thesis so she took her interest in fake food to her graduate advisor, Tammy. That same year the two went to USITT and presented Karestin’s work in the Young Designers Forum. Karestin brought some of the dishes to present and the paper. 

There was such a positive response to her work Tammy suggested that she should put it all into a book. Karestin’s response was “I just finished school and I’m pretty much done with writing things for a while.” Karestin recalls, “About 3-4 years later Tammy sent me a Facebook message asking, ‘What would it take you to write this book?’ I said, ‘You would have to do all the editing, I didn’t do it the first time so I’m not doing it now.’” So, the deal was struck, and Tammy reached out to  Focal Press. They remembered seeing Karestin’s work at USITT in the YD forum and were interested in the book.

Cooking the Book
When preparing for the book Tammy and Karestin would look over the dishes for believability and color. One of the hardest was eggs ‘sunny side up’ explains Karestin, “I was torn between ideas for the yoke, the flex foam was good because it gave it weight and I wanted a gel wax for the yoke because it kept such a great shine and that’s important for realism on the stage. But then the yellow gel started to bleed into the foam. However, the bacon came out on the first try. We then had to come up with 25 more dishes that we needed to make; and shoot pictures of; and write-up. So, I would make up all the dishes and send her a crappy Word document with some of the instructions on how I did it. Tammy would flesh them out and make them sound good on paper. I teach high school technical theater in Raleigh, NC, so I would be working tech on a show and then I’d go to the shop and work on projects for the book. The students would come back to grab something from the shop and there I would be covered in blue foam.”

When they turned their hard work into the publisher, they got a  big shock from the response, “We had to cut 300 images; 60 pages and 10,000 words in 24 hours,” describes Tammy. “Both of us were in tech at the time and we couldn’t figure out how to calculate what to take out and still keep the information that was crucial to a lot of the process.” But luckily for all of us they did figure out how and their Fake Food Cookbook got published. 

When they came to USITT 2018 for a book signing they thought it would get a little interest and they would sign a few copies and leave unnoticed. It went a bit differently, in fact, Props Wizard Eric Hart came down to the USITT Props lab beaming with his copy of their book in hand and showed me where they signed it. I loved the book and was a bit jealous, so I went up to get my own copy, but they had already sold out of the book. That just proves to all of us that our own fears are just illusions and we shouldn’t let them dictate the great work the we should do.

Try the Eggrolls
Now, I’ll admit that I’m one of those people that flip through a book to look at the pictures first. It has always been my litmus test ever since I stepped into my first Bookmobile in 3rd grade. If it has cool monsters, cool pictures or illustrated instructions I’m in. So, that was the first thing I did when I looked at the Fake Food Cookbook. Everything looked good flipping thru the book and then I saw the eggrolls. That made me stop, because next to them were Vietnamese spring rolls. On the skin of the eggrolls, you could see the blisters from it being fried. On the spring rolls, you could see through the clear skin at the filling inside. They didn’t look good, they looked great. Now, of course, I had to find out the secret. That’s when the magical thing happened that makes me love being a props master. It took me down the rabbit hole. Because one of them was a technique that I knew since I was a small child growing up in Missouri and the other one I wouldn’t have thought of in a million years. Trust me, get the book and go to page 42. 

Throughout the book, there is not only an art to what they show they also give you a bit of science on the items they use. Why is gel wax better than silicone on this product, what drying techniques work best, or when keeping a higher humidity environment will cause a reaction that you want. They also have safety precautions so you know what to expect and how to prepare. If there is one thing I learned from The Great British Bake Off it’s to read all the way through the instructions first. The way this book is laid-out with step by step instructions and images you are easily pulled all the way through that first read.

For Any Prop Chef
As I read on I also noticed that they used materials that have a good range in price and suggest alternative materials if you can’t afford the more expensive products. That makes this the perfect book for props people working at any level of theater—high school, community, college, LORT, and in my shop. It’s not just Smooth-On or Rosco materials, it’s also things that you most likely already have in the shop, like wood glue, epoxy and even paper towels, which is a food making material not for clean up, really, check out the Chef Salad on page 106.

The main thing that I like about this book is that it has a lot of diverse recipes in it and if you use these ideas as a jumping off point you will find a lot more inspiration. It’s like bouncing ideas off a friend, you go into the book to look for answers and you find a large new path of exploration. With all that said I give this book 4 out of 5 Shia LaBeoufs.

The Fake Food Cookbook: Props You Can’t Eat for Theatre, Film, and TV has full color images with step by step instructions on how to create the realistic prop food for a theatrical production. Every meal from appetizers & entrees to desserts, breakfasts, and even beverages, are covered in this how-to guide. You can order it at: http://bit.ly/FakeFoodBook. Get a taste of this wonderful book at the companion website: http://bit.ly/FFCB_companion