A child sits at the dinner table looking bored, uninterested, picking at the food on her plate. If this scene sounds familiar, then shake things up and look in to the fun art of decoben. Decoben is a way of decorating food to make them look like cute shapes and characters then arranging them in a bento box.
Being a Japanese invention, many decoben designs are rice based, but as its popularity around the world grows many designs with western characters like Super Mario and Sponge Bob are becoming more common.
The decoben learning curve is not steep, you just need to know how to cook rice, toast bread and be somewhat handy with a knife. Starter kits are available online or at most Japanese markets. Molds range from $2 to $4 and complete kits start under $10. Looking for inspiration or coming up with ideas is easy, use Google's image search for decoben and click on anything you fancy to get a closer look.
Of course, there are also a ton of tutorials on YouTube. Another great tip is to use the term ‘kyaraben’ when searching online. Decoben is a general term and as the name suggests it means ‘decorative bento,’ while kyaraben means ‘character bento’ so if your child loves Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob, and Pokémon kyaraben might be a better search word. As you get better you should be able to execute your own designs.
On another note. The new Top Chef Master was just named, and the man who bested the competition is Douglas Keane chef/owner of Cyrus. When Bravo began airing the promos for the show, I figured Brian Voltaggio would be one of the favorites to win, he along with David Burke and Sang Yoon. The introduction of Chef Keane in the first episode changed everything, no other master-cheftestant has held a Michelin star on their own, much less, two stars for seven consecutive years.
David Burke was a dud throughout the season, it was quite surprising that he lasted as long as he did. Sang Yoon was very competitive but wasn’t quite consistent enough. Chef Jennifer Jasinski, was a revelation, she flew under everyone's radar and made it all the way to the final three. Still, it would have been interesting to see Sang Yoon go up against Chef’s Voltaggio and Keane in the finale. In the end the best chef won, so congratulations to Chef Douglas Keane, Top Chef Master.
Is there a moral or lesson somewhere here? No. But… Decoben doesn’t require a top chef ‘s skills, like anything else it takes a little bit of time to get right. You don’t need to serve it daily either, but if your kids love it that much, then you can prepare some components in advance and that will bring down your entire prep time to just a few minutes.
In the end your children might start enjoying their meals and develop things like a taste for vegetables, and interest in other cultures; it may also foster their imagination, feed their creativity and reinforce their individuality. They might like it so much that expressing themselves through food becomes a passion and a career, this is just a theory but it’s a good one.