Those who excel in the culinary realm understand that taste begins with presentation—you eat with your eyes first. The most skilled in the kitchen create an experience pleasant to all the senses, and seek to evoke a response from those who eat their dishes. Beyond merely feeding our bodies, food is curated to stimulate and surprise, similar to an exhibit at an art gallery, and chefs have come to be seen as edible artists.
The next time you enjoy a dish that is visually appealing, ask the creator about his or her background—not just the culinary training but other experiences as well. Based on discussions with culinarians around Northeast Florida, it is quite possible those who are working in the food community have a visual arts background as well. Such is the case with Nils Rowland, the mastermind behind the pastries, chocolates and sugar art at Crème de la Cocoa in St. Augustine.
Before pursuing a degree in hospitality management, fol- lowed by training at a pastry school in Orlando, Nils put much of his creative energy into graphic arts, and ceramics in particular. “My art teacher in high school basically said ‘Here’s a wheel, have fun,’” recalls Nils. He took those words to heart, enjoying his time throwing clay on the wheel. Although he did not realize it at the time, those hours creating uniquely shaped decorative vases and bottles were a good foundation for his current pursuit.
“To me, making a piece of pottery is like creating pastry art. Sugar and chocolate pieces are designed to be looked at, with an added bonus of being edible.”
While the initial attraction may be the visual beauty of his creations, Nils also focuses on how the delicate flowers and other sculpted sugar tastes, so each piece becomes a delicious intersection where art meets flavor. Nature is a consistent inspiration for his work, as it lends itself well to his culinary medium. “I want the chocolate and sugar art to be unique yet relatable to my customers, beautiful but not over-complicated,” said Nils. “Having an art background really helps with composition.”
Florida may not be the best place to create sculptures in chocolate and sugar. Heat and humidity are natural enemies of this kind of art, and Nils has already experienced wilted sugar flowers on a wedding cake. Still, like any artist, he is committed to his craft to offer up one-of-a-kind edible art. While the most intricate pieces may take 80–100 hours to complete, “I just like working with my hands. Making something out of clay is cool, but making sculpture out of chocolate and sugar is even more impressive. I am just getting started.”