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Wednesday September 4, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday September 4, 2013 MYT 8:18:51 AM
by samantha lee
One mother’s knack for making meal times fun for her kids has propelled her into super-stardom.
SNOW White has grapes for sleeves, Cinderella is all decked out in a nori gown and the Little Mermaid, well, has scrambled eggs for hair.
As far as Disney princesses go, mother-of-two Samantha Lee has got it all figured out. The Selangor-based homemaker is nothing short of a miracle mum – everyday, she creates fantastical plates of food art for her daughters, using simple ingredients easily found at the local supermarket aisles.
Her love for telling stories with bits of asparagus-turned-grass, or cherry tomatoes for balloons, has garnered a huge fan base on photo and video sharing site Instagram. Lee currently has over 270,000 followers from around the world, and her fans continue to grow by the minute. On average, Lee now receives over 20,000 likes on each of her posts, most of which almost always appear on the photo-sharing social network’s Popular Page.
In fact, the 37-year-old is now a global sensation. News of her talent has made it to Huffington Post, NBC News’ TODAY Moms and The Daily Mail in Britain.
Lee remembers getting goosebumps when she watched celebrity Khloe Kardashian and her mum discussing her food art on the Kris Jenner Show in New York.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time seeing my pictures on TV. All this happened right after TODAY Moms contacted me for an e-mail interview. Within a week, I was all over the international media,” she says, when Star2 caught up with her for brunch (food from a restaurant, unfortunately).
Because of the time difference, Lee has been staving off sleep till 3am every night to respond to enquiries from the international media, which has so far included the French, Chinese, Japanese and Austrian dailies.
While all this happened just a month ago, Lee’s popularity has been on a steady growth since the start of the year, when her name came up tops in BuzzFeed’s shortlist of “30 Delightful Instagram Accounts That Will Bring Joy Into Your Life”.
“I was really puzzled when I started getting at least 20 new Instagram followers by the second. I had a feeling that something big was happening, but I didn’t know what,” recalls Lee, who later heard the news from one of her followers.
Within a week, @leesamantha was dealing with 50,000 new followers. Even supermodel and celebrity TV host Tyra Banks herself had been wowed by the cute food art, having reposted Lee’s makes twice on her personal Instagram account – one of an omelette-haired Nicki Minaj and another of Psy the onigiri (rice ball), dancing amidst a pool of vegetables.
Boring plates of broccoli started becoming lush trees in a forest and hardboiled eggs, tiny Totoro forest spirits. The experiment soon turned into a passion and Lee started sharing daily posts of her whimsical work about two years ago on the then newly-launched Instagram.
“People have commented that I get to ‘play’ with my food because I’m a housewife and that I must have a lot of time on my hands. That’s not true at all. Staying at home with the kids is one of the toughest jobs a woman can have,” explains Lee, who regards her food art-designing moments as a welcome break from the daily grind.
Her creations, elaborate as they are, takes up a total of one and a half hours, which is essentially about the same amount of time it takes to cook a meal. The savoury dinner spread you see on her Instagram though, is usually only a portion of the food she prepares for the family – Lee makes a similar plate, only smaller, for her youngest, Evana Goh, four; the rest is served on a plain platter to be shared with her husband, Desmond Goh, 39, who heads a mechanical and engineering company.
Lee assures that her food tastes as good as it looks. “Back when I first started, the food would get all cold by the time I put on the finishing touches. Now I plan all my designs in advance and just focus on the cooking.” Her biggest challenge though, lies in creating something new every day.
Needless to say, Lee’s inspirations come from her two daughters, whom she regards as her biggest fans. Her creative process includes sketching out designs on paper (currently, a bright blue notebook), and running through a mental directory of useful (and tasty) ingredients that resemble the shape or colours of the design.
Unlike most charaben-making mothers, Lee seems to enjoy the challenge of using a limited number of tools– in her kitchen drawer, what you’d probably find is a few sharp knives, a jar of toothpicks and her absolute favourite: a good pair of scissors (Lee has developed a knack for cutting seaweed slices freehand).
Lee is also creative when it comes to repurposing furniture – many may not know this, but she takes pride in styling her phone-only snapshots on a “fake” table, which consists of a piece of wooden shelf from her closet.
The crafty mother has since been signed on as one of the brand personalities of HTC Malaysia for its HTC One smartphone. Last month, Lee was invited to share her no-frills cooking skills at a workshop in Singapore, in partnership with Naturel cooking oil, and again on ntv7’s Bella TV show as a brand personality for Tefal cookware. Lee wasn’t at all terrified at the prospect of facing a live audience, despite having little experience.
“During the Bella show, I was only supposed to share two creations but because I finished so quickly, I had to come up with another one on-the-spot. I really enjoyed the challenge.
“Workshops are a lot of fun and I hope to do more of them in the future.”
With hopes to publish a cookbook on the theme soon, Lee has vowed to stay grounded, despite having becoming a celebrity of sorts.
“I have so much to be thankful for. I still read and reply all of the comments I get on Instagram. My heart still jumps for joy whenever I get a new ‘like’. It never gets old!”
Apart from her ingenuity with food, Lee’s rise to fame perhaps boils down to her willingness to share, be it a newly-discovered cooking technique or a fresh take on an old ingredient.
“I’m always happy to inspire other mums out there to create cute food art for their kids. It doesn’t have to be done every day; just try it once in a while.
“You may fail the first time around but keep going. That’s how I got my own kids to be adventurous with food.”
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Family & Community, Samantha Lee, Food Art
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