Champion food sculpture to be recreated for fundraiser

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

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Chef James Parker, owner of Veggy Arts and winner of the Food Network’s ‘‘Challenge: Fantasy Fruit Sculpture Rematch” in February, shows off one of his original sculptures. Parker will be sculpting his winning sculpture for the 27th Annual Celebration of Life Gala to be held at the Chesapeake Beach Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant on Aug. 7.


The winning fruit and vegetable sculpture of the Food Network’s ‘‘Challenge: Fantasy Fruit Sculpture Rematch” titled ‘‘Treasures Lost, Paradise Found” will be recreated by Chef James Parker and his assistants especially for the 27th Annual Celebration of Life Gala on Aug. 7 at the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant in Chesapeake Beach.

The scene of a shipwreck with a treasure chest surrounded by marine life and a waterfall was envisioned by Parker, who said the sculpture went ‘‘completely out of his comfort zone.”

‘‘I had never done a sculpture like this before and I think it surprised the judges,” he said.

The theme of the rematch was ‘‘Tropical Treasures” and the sculptures showed different types of treasures; the treasure chest, the ship wreck depicting the treasure of history and the treasures of nature in marine life and the waterfall, he said.

Parker said he used malanga root for the shipwreck adding food coloring and letting it set to make the root look like old rotted wood. He carved acorn squash and carrots for the waterfall and used different kinds of squash for marine life and birds.

‘‘The whole design is mine. I envision something when I see produce,” he said.

For the past two Celebration of Life Galas, Parker created colorful sculpted displays center piecing the cornucopia of cuisine.

Parker will have the same assistant he had for the rematch competition, Ray L. Duey, who will fly from California to help recreate his winning piece and his rematch competitor’s assistant, Michael Verno, will also help carve. This will be the second time carving the piece so ‘‘we can make it better,” Parker said.

‘‘This time I don’t have the time constraints or cameras in my face,” he added. Many student sculptors will be flying in to watch the process of putting the sculpture together, Parker said. It will take about eight hours to prep and eight hours to put together, he said.

Parker, who graduated from Pennsylvania College of Technology with a culinary degree, was chef garde manger at the Sheraton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. He recognized the potential for creating food sculptures and the idea emerged for Veggy Art, Parker’s business that creates food sculptures for purchase and teaches classes in fruit and vegetable sculpting.

Parker coined the term ‘‘fashion for food” as Veggy Art’s company slogan and has taught chefs his sculpturing techniques all over the country and his client’s list includes The White House, the U.S. Marine Corps and L’academie De Cuisine, the academy of culinary and pasty arts.

‘‘I’m a perfectionist. I see flaw in everything, but it helps me improve. I’m harder on myself than a judge would be,” Parker said.

‘‘My strength is the vision of a bigger piece and how it comes together.” A piece needs both quantity and quality, meaning detail, when in a competition.

Parker has earned several medals and numerous awards for his centerpieces, but his new title of winner of the Food Network Challenge Rematch also earned him a $10,000 check.

While Parker impresses the event with his sculpture, executive chef William Bednar demonstrates his culinary talents in the extensive buffet spread that is put out each year for the event. The menu includes Maine Lobster, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, crabs and fresh fish as well as roasted pig, filet mignon, barbecue ribs, grilled chicken, steamship round and a variety of side dishes and desserts galore.

Tickets for the Celebration of Life Gala may be purchased at any Calvert County branch of PNC Bank, the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant, Stoney’s Seafood Houses and online fromÊthe American Cancer Society andÊTicketmaster for $125 per person or $150 the day of the event. Several sponsor levels are available and businesses and individuals may register at

This year’s honorary chairs are Bob and Pat Carpenter, who like many other families, have lost family members to cancer. The Carpenters have solicited for sponsors for the event, relaying Celebration of Life Gala information at both Chesapeake Beach and North Beach town council meetings.

The event is sponsored by the Calvert County Chapter of the American Cancer Society and proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

Last year’s the event raised more than $426,000 for the American Cancer Society’s research, education, advocacy and patient services. The first gala was held in 1982 and to date combined earnings have reached over $3.4 million, according to the fundraiser’s Web site.