From Melon to Masterpiece
Miniature Japanese chisels in hand, Don Slater grabs a cantaloupe. With an idea of what he’ll craft already formed in his head, he begins cutting through the ripe melon, layer after layer, uncovering the flower or logo within.
As Associated Students catering manager for the past five years, Slater creates an environment where the food on every A.S. buffet both tastes good and looks enticing. He learned many of his decorating tricks—from lighting to flower arranging—in culinary school in the 1970s, but Slater’s favorite method now is adding his own fruit carvings to his buffet settings.
“It’s like having flower arrangements—it makes things more appealing,” said Slater. “You eat with your eyes before you indulge.”
Just three years ago, Slater was at a food convention when he met a man who carved fruit for fun. Slater had learned to carve ice while in culinary school, but he had never tried carving fruit, so he bought the tools, taught himself how to carve all kinds of melons, and hasn’t stopped since. He said he can carve a cantaloupe in five minutes, but larger melons like watermelon take between 45 minutes to an hour.
Although he began by carving swans, Slater said he can now carve just about anything, from flowers to university logos.
“I grab a piece of fruit and start cutting it,” said Slater.
Slater’s melons are edible for a week and a half after they’ve been carved into masterpieces. The secret, he said, is spraying the melon with original Pam, which seals in the melon and keeps out the air.
“Air and light are the carvings’ enemies,” said Slater.
His designs range from the simple to the intricate. He hasn’t ever entered any contests because fruit carving for him is just about fun.
“If I were doing it for a living, I’d be in every contest,” he said.
“This last summer I went to the beach on a family trip, with 15 of us,” he said. “I actually did a carving on Hermosa Beach and had 50 people watching me.”
Slater mostly carves freestyle, without planning ahead before he starts. With more complicated pieces like logos, however, he draws a template before cutting in.
In the three years he has been carving fruit, Slater has created countless designs for countless buffets and campus events. “Every one I do is different, and every cut is different,” said Slater. “I really love each one.”