Monday, December 21, 2009

How To Make Your Own Charabento - Video - Wired

How To Make Your Own Charabento - Video - Wired

The video I filmed for WIRED Magazine is now officially LIVE on their website. I can't embed it here, so click the above link to view at your own discretion! ;-)

Monday, December 14, 2009


Would anyone care for a signed book?

Saturday night was a bit of a surreal experience for me, as you might be able to tell from my pathetic struggle to put it all into words. Miho from NHKTV was on hand (with video camera in hand), filming my every move for the upcoming "New York Wave" documentary. Amazing how a wireless mic (or "wire" as they say on Law & Order) makes your friends uncomfortable (or too comfortable?) in casual conversation. Lots of "check out k-r-t-s music dot com" from Mr. Kurtis. Love it.

I want to thank everyone for coming, friends and strangers alike - especially the strangers with the mad bento skillz. You humble me, truly.

Here are just a few bento highlights:

The Giant Robot logo I made. The cheese/nori combo curls fast under lights.

Mark Batty holding the Mark Batty bento I made.

3D Jar Seascape! Truly original.


Homer Simpson.

Gloomy Bear.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


The official launch party for Face Food Recipes is TONIGHT at Giant Robot. I may be biased,'s gonna be hella fun. (AND I made two totally original charaben bentos. Pics to come!)

PS: If you have a moment, check out this solid and well-written review from Adventures in Bento Making.

Monday, November 23, 2009

WIRED preview

Face Food Recipes is out making the rounds - and it seems I have been, as well! Just shot a silly how-to video for WIRED last week. Here's a preview:

You can't tell much, aside from the fact that I'm *trying* to look sexy in my MUJI apron. Le sigh.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

招き猫 balls!

These balls beckon eat them.

This image reminded me of the very real importance of package design. If your food must be as bland and as boring as say, a white candied ball - let its wrapper provide the face.

If you're struggling with a bento design it might be wise to spend a little $$ on some "package" inspiration. A cute little box like this one from From Japan With Love could give you the right kind of creative boost in your kawaii food prep...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fuji Interview FAIL

FUJI TV was in town over the weekend, and it seems they are avid readers of this blog - for yours truly was asked to remake the F-Train Charaben LIVE! for the Japanese television station's morning news program. Great, right? Well, initially the arrangement was a bust - I had planned on working the weekend and just didn't have time to do an o-bento.

But the charaben gods could not be bested. I showed up for work (where all my files were) only to find the elevator broken. No super. No access through the stairs. No work for the weekend!

This isn't good news, actually - I'm someone who operates based on self-imposed deadlines. Deadlines for books. Deadlines that effect a small publisher that need these books finished to make money in order to make other books...

However, I wasn't about to let my weekend be rained on, so I took this as a great opportunity to wow the Japanese viewing public with not one but two charaben! And here they are:

Laputa Robot

F-Train Redux

Robot Body - fried tofu glazed in honey + sprinkled in sesame
Eyes/Mouth - nori
Sun - tomato + yellow pepper
Heart - tomato

F-Train Redux
Train - rice
Train front - nori, swiss cheese, tomato
"F" label - carrot + nori
Rails - faux beef cubes + nori

In addition to laundry duties, my Sunday morning was spent making both of these delicious fellers while fighting off my frisky-when-you-don't-want-him-to-be cat, Desnos. Then, around lunch time, I received a phone call from Adri (MBP PR) telling me the interview had to be canceled.


Sorry, Fuji, for being locked out of my office. As you can see above, I really was ready and excited for this. Maybe next time?

(I've had better weekends.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Think YOUR Jack-o-Lantern is Hot?

Villafane Studios, aka Ray Villafane, makes what has to be the greatest pumpkin carvings known to man. Click the link to see more of his mad creations...

Really, though - his work is unreal. This Halloween I plan on expanding the Mameshiba love by trying my hand at a Mameshiba Pumpkin...any other interesting ideas out there?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

GOURMET 1941-2009

Gourmet Magazine has - shockingly - slammed shut its doors. 68 years in print - Quite a run, no? But word is: staff were told to clear out their desks in just 48 hours. Tough work for those that have spent years with the company, their lives partially stored on company shelves. Respect, Condé Nast. Respect.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Face Food Recipes in USA Today

Hey, fellow foodiots! Over @ USA Today there is a wonderful little mention of Face Food Recipes - along with a clear inability to fact check! :-) For the record, the "best work" of the book was done by mothers in Japan...I simply met with them and took the photographs! But all that information is in the introduction to the book, and on every page of the book,

Still, the words are as posi as can be and there are some solid sample spreads from the book. Thanks, Whitney!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Asuka Sakumo's Mini-Charaben

These amazing, uber-kawaii miniature charaben are made at 1:12 scale from air-dry clay. See them (alongside other face food miniatures) at Asuka Sakumo's Etsy page.

FFR on Amazon!

Face Food Recipes - with full preview spreads - is now up on Amazon! Pre-order to your heart's content - I promise the book will be available before the holidays!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NY Observer Coins the Term: Foodiot

Am I a foodiot? Are you? I certainly feel like one after reading this (silly/funny) article. Per Melissa Clark, "We all have our own inner foodiots. You just have to stamp them down.” [NYO]

Our culture is quickly becoming one that is over-documented, it's true. Some things seem less "real" until they're posted on Facebook for comment or Tweeted into Twit-heaven. But heck, Observer - let's not look to kill those who are over-enthusiastic about food! This can only lead to better food awareness and a breaking of the microwaved lunch mold, IMHO...thoughts?

Face Food Pins

Who be wantin' one? I have "Laurel" and Ponyo available! Email me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mameshiba Charaben

For a few days now I've been thinking about a Mameshiba charaben - you may remember the post I did a while back on these cute little "bean dogs." Well, last night's kitchen madness led to not one but two of these adorable little guys!

(As you can see I only had tungsten light available at 11pm - ick!)

To get the rice a green color, I made arroz verde, which isn't too hard to do. Here's how:

1/2 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro sprigs (about 1/2 oz.)
1 cup tightly packed fresh stemmed spinach leaves (about 1-1/2 oz.)
1-1/4 cups homemade or low-salt chicken broth
1-1/4 cups milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups white rice (short grain is better for molding, but long grain will do)
1/4 cup finely minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced

In a blender, puree the cilanto, spinach and broth. (Being vegetarian, I used a no-chicken broth, but vegetable broth would work just as well.) Add the milk and salt and blend a little more.

In a medium saucepan heat the olive oil and butter, and add your rice to brown - this takes about 4 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook for another few minutes. Then toss in the lovely green contents from your blender, stir well, turn the heat to low and bring to a boil. Cover and leave for approx. 20 minutes. Once done, you'll want to stir this gently and cook for an additional 5 minutes, uncovered. Leave this sitting for at least 10 minutes before handling.

The bean shape is pretty easy to mold with your hands. For the ears, I sliced the shape out of a green pepper, cut a slit into the bean rice and stuck into place.

The eyes and mouth are cheese and nori, sliced with an X-Acto. The stars are yellow pepper made with a small star cookie mold.

I accented these bentos with food had on hand: a bed of kale, sauteed broccoli, grape tomatoes, faux chicken nuggets and some strips of (lightly peppered + pan fried) seitan.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Meat Baby

via This is Why You're Fat. Disgusting! (and wrong on so many levels...)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Seems Face Food was mentioned in a comment war over at the Village Voice blog.

Can't we all get along, people? ;-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let this be a recorded fact: One cannot eat 1/2 of one 8oz bag of Swedish fish without receiving some form of stomach ache in return.


Also: To the person that can identify the species of fish the Swedish fish candy is made to resemble - you'll receive one signed copy of Face Food! Honest!

Monday, September 14, 2009

There's at least one reason you should be buying your bento boxes from Kinokuniya - can you see it?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

F-Train Charaben

Yesterday's journey home concluded with a grueling wait for the Brooklyn-bound F-Train - so of course there were the regular annoyances that go along with that: dealing with the sweltering heat inside the 42nd St Station, the confusion of the E running on the F, the over-friendly strangers, the smell of the melting Japanese groceries inside my bag...All these little moments have me wishing I lived with a more efficient public transportation system. (How I miss thee, JR!)

To honor the eve, this morning I woke up bright and early to make this: the F-Train onigiri charaben!

The ingredients:
1. Subway train: white rice with black sesame and sea salt
2. Train details: nori

3. Train windows: white cheddar cheese

4. F-Train logo: carrot and nori

5. Lights: tomato

6. Yellow line/divider: yellow pepper

First, I created a decorative bed in the bento box using some freshly washed kale. Then I pressed together the onigiri by hand - the roasted black sesame and sea salt was added to the rice when it was still in my rice cooker. With the onigiri placed in the center of the bento, I decorated the front of the car by taking my X-Acto knife to some nori, cheese, pepper and carrot, then with a hole punch I knocked-out those tomato red lights.

I filled up the remaining space inside the bento using ingredients my girlfriend and I would eat - all veggie goodies. On top: sauteed lotus root (peel, slice and soak in vinegar water for a few minutes before sauteeing in sesame oil - yum!), cherry tomatoes and some ground faux meat soy chunks. On the bottom: broccoli sauteed in garlic and olive oil alongside three asparagus spears, chopped and stacked at an angle.

This certainly isn't the best charaben around, and I'm not entirely sure I should have gone with the angled train approach...but hey, it was early, I was (and still am) exhausted, and if it's not 100% attractive to the eyes at least I know it will be 100% delicious!

Crossing the Line 2009 Bento Celebration

Not even the rain could keep the people from dancing at the opening ceremony of the French Institute's 2009 Crossing the Line Festival, which kicked off yesterday in the East Meadow of Central Park. The big draw of the day (for me, anyway) was the bento giveaway at 4:45PM. After a long, stressful ride (with half of the city's crazies) on the uptown 6, my girlfriend and I made it just in time...and as luck would have it she was able to get her hands on one of the prized bento boxes - I, however, didn't get one!

These boxes were two-tiered and put together by top US and French chefs, including Inaki Aizpitarte, Pascal Barbot, Alexandre Gauthier, Michel Bras, David Chang, and Wylie Dufresne. Being the herbavore that I am, I was unable to eat most of this gorgeous food, which was brought to us by Omnivore New York. Still, the egg nog was to die for, and the marshmallow/chocolate chip/corn flake cookie délicieux (really, it had me making noises it was that good).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Name similarity aside, I'm sort of diggin' on this new plate for children: Food Face. Playing on the same concept of that 80s magnetic face toy Wooly Willy, Food Face is a fun way to present "unappealing" food to children. (Getting them to actually eat their pea "hat" or carrot "eyebrow," however, is far less fun.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Even Late Nite host (and fellow NYer) Jimmy Fallon digs on Face Food. (or, at least his web cronies do!)

And who isn't a foodie these days? Maybe it's this naughty US economy and our tendency to cope with one-too-many guilty pleasures - ice cream aside. A few months ago The Economist reported that sales of wine were on the rise, so it only goes that cheese and bread would follow...

Anyway, to Mr. Fallon: Can you introduce me to Mr. Orange, aka Mario Batali? I have a bone to pick regarding this recent obsession with España.
Have you seen the work of Nico? Seriously...have you seen this?
I took this photo one afternoon inside my tiny Shinjuku hotel room. In the background you'll notice some scattered manga bought from the AM/PM across the street. I was hungry. My love was patient. This Naruto (-ナルト-) charaben was, is, and always shall be amazing. Applause to Nico - Bento Master extraordinaire.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Molds are common in the charaben world - Hello Kitty, Anpanman, bears, hearts, bunnies and flowers for rice, to name but a few; fish, cars, piggies, moo cows and more for hard boiled eggs...I could go on and on, but I'll stop to share this news of the strange out of China (via the Daily Mail and ABW):

That's a pear you see there, and one man in Northern China is molding them into...little Buddhas. Each goes for about $8, and even at that high price they're selling about as fast as they can grow, even being exported into European markets. Molded fruit strikes me as a little too strange a concept (like the square watermelon of Japan). Maybe it's just that I'm grossed out by odd artificiality, pesticides and the like, but still - this Buddha guy is kinda cool!

I will end on this note from Popular Science, circa 1938:

There's a new Times article that's been making the internet rounds...and yes, it concerns bento box nutrition! Sadly, everyone is posting and forwarding this because of the charaben images...not the written piece! Samantha Storey doesn't mention charaben, but she does touch briefly on the concept of face food:

“I have to make her food look like something she recognizes,” said Ms. Chen, 42, a stay-at-home mother in San Leandro, Calif. “If her boiled egg is shaped like a bunny and it is holding a baby carrot, she’ll eat it.”

With cookie cutters Ms. Chen makes her daughter star-shaped vegetables; and with decorative skewers, a plastic top hat and pieces of nori (dried seaweed), cherry tomatoes become smiley faced, mustachioed creatures.

Her ruse includes assembling each meal in her version of a bento box, a Japanese lunch box, decorated with cute cartoon characters.

It might seem like silly kids’ stuff, but that sense of fun has helped make bento boxes — obentos as the Japanese call them — increasingly popular with grownups in the United States, too.

I wouldn't really call it a ruse - it's more of a method.

Anyway, while I'm happy to see the Times picking up on the growing number of non-Japanese bento fans out there, I'm bothered by the lead-in, which a) is the most interesting bit of the entire article and b) an editorial excuse to use tons of charaben images in the slideshow. Come on, New York Times - you can do better!

read the article in full here

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Bento Box USB

For you bento geeks out there (you know who you are).

It's only 2GB - but still, pretty adorable! Perfect for passing along (at least some of) your hi-res charaben images...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Spotlight: Obacchi

Obacchi's take on The Velvet Underground & Nico. Find the recipe here.

I reported on this little lady a while back, when she was making quite the buzz with her unique charabens of popular record sleeve art (which she has dubbed jacketben). I had the pleasure of sitting down with her (in a Starbucks, of all places) while in Tokyo...

On average, how much time and money do you spend on making one jacketben?

It takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to over 2 hours, depending on the level of difficulty. I think it takes about 500 yen per bento, but I use whatever is in the fridge.

Did you know about charaben before you started making jacketben? How is charaben different from your jacketben?

I always made lunch for myself, but I got bored with the traditional bento, and so I made my first illustrated bento.

Instead of an anime or cartoon character, I used my favorite illustration as the motif. My friends liked it, and so I’ve been doing it since.

Charaben is usually done with a popular or famous character, but my jacketben is not recognizable by everyone, so I consider it sort of underground culture.

How do you feel about the fact that charaben has become so popular and well-known across the nation?

I think it’s an interesting phenomenon. It’s a total combination of cooking and art. I think it’s great for kids to have something creative as part of their daily lives.

What is the most challenging or difficult thing about making charaben?

The most difficult thing is to find the time to make one. I also make sure to choose the right CD jacket and to make it without using artificial coloring.

What tools do you use when you make charaben?

Eyebrow scissors, bamboo sticks, saran wrap

What is the moment that makes you love/hate charaben?

Love: I love it when my friends show appreciation for my work. I love to draw and to make things, and jacketben is part of that.

Hate: I hate it when my job is busy. I can’t make a good jacketben when I’m stressed out or upset.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


baran | bahr-an |

:: noun ::

Have you ever ordered sushi and wondered if there is a name for the plastic green decorative grass? Well there is: baran. These little food dividers keep the saucy bits out of your plain bits - just don't try to eat them, ok? Also available in about a zillion other kawaii colors and shapes... many with cute little animals on them.


One of my favorite Japanese programs of late of all time is Mameshiba. Literally "bean dog," the Mameshibas come in the form of, well...any kind of bean there is. These little guys pop out when their victims least expect it, only to dole out random (usually bizarre) trivia. It's just dark enough to be adorable. Word on the street: the show is making its way into the English-language market. (Let's just hope they don't rewrite the trivia for American markets.) Have a look:

Oh, and the big plus to most Japanophiles (and veggie lovers): the merch is great.