This is not your grandmother's Jell-O. This is art. And it's edible.
Picture this: What looks like a domed, glass paperweight has a perfect pink rose suspended within. The flower appears to float. Another orb contains a chrysanthemum; its gold petals cast a soft, green shadow underneath its surface. The center of a sunny daisy looks so real, you'd expect to see insects gathering pollen.
These are the creations of Clara D'Tapiero, a native of Cali, Colombia, who now lives in Charlotte. Her medium is gelatin, which she paints, layers, flavors, and molds into works that are lovely - and luscious.
"In my family, creativity runs," she says. One sister back home is an accomplished cake decorator. "And my mom's tamales haven't anything to do with the tamales that you know."
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With brushes and colored gelatin, D'Tapiero spends long hours practicing three-dimensional butterflies, flowers, leaves and even lettering. She describes her process as "mente llena," which incorporates a deliberate mindfulness. She thinks about the recipient while crafting each work, and as a result, "Every single one has a story."
Most are startlingly realistic, but others are fanciful. For a Mexican "Grito de Independencia" celebration, D'Tapiero crafted a platter-sized gelatin moon in profile, its face embellished with dozens of blooms. Its companion was a red-lipped sun whose beams radiated pansies and petunias.
For an event commemorating artist Frida Kahlo at the Levine Museum of the New South, D'Tapiero presented a Kahlo-inspired, floral still life.
Regular grocery-store gelatin won't produce the texture and range of colors D'Tapiero needs, so she orders a special high-protein product. Adding condensed milk gives a creamy look to base layers she flavors with coconut essence. Shimmery top layers can taste of pineapple or other tropical fruits.
The finished creations will last about three hours outdoors, eight hours in an air-conditioned room, and up to a week in the fridge - not that you'd have any left over.
"Doesn't it make you sad when someone cuts into it?" a recent recipient asked.
The artist insists it doesn't. In fact, she never tires of seeing the delight when someone opens the plain bakery box to reveal the sweet and unexpected treasure inside.