Two years ago, on Neha Chandranarayanan’s 18th birthday, her mother Sudha gifted her fridge magnet in the shape of a miniature dosa. “I just loved it; I am a huge foodie,” says the Chennai-based engineering student.
Sudha, a Trichy-born graduate in chemistry, had a flair for clay crafting from a young age, and has made a successful career of it for the past 15 years. And so, the two decided to bring their love for food and clay crafting together in one unique venture, Cn Arts, launched earlier this year.
Worldwide, clay miniatures are often made in the shape of flowers, dolls, bonsais or tourist attractions. Sudha and Neha decided to take inspiration from Indian cuisine, “as Indian food is rich in terms of its variety, taste and spices apart from being very healthy,” says Neha, who learnt the art of clay crafting from her mother in childhood.
Every component of their art – from the rice grains, vegetables to even mustard seeds and other condiments – is completely handmade.
Both Sudha, 50, and Neha, 20, find working on miniatures to be deeply satisfying. “Our miniatures are lifelike as we focus on the intricate texture, colour and shape of every component. Be it the mouth-watering vada pav, pav bhaji, pani puri and chole bhature from north India or the scrumptious idli, dosa and biryanis of the South, every component is crafted minutely,” says Neha, adding that they have developed over a hundred different types of miniatures so far.
Crafting the miniatures is a multi-step process: “We start with the plates and cups designed authentically according to the food – be it circular, triangular or oval with partitions as well. Then we make all the other ingredients one by one, be it the paneer cubes, vegetables, spices, rotis, and so on. Finally, we arrange them all together over the plates and cups, and it is then coated with a sealant to make it water-resistant.”
The miniatures are about 3 cm to 11 cm in size, and are sold as fridge magnets and key chains through their Instagram store @cnarts_miniatures. “Besides family and friends, we had started getting many requests from abroad and started shipping worldwide just before lockdown,” says Neha, who is doing her Bachelor’s in computer science engineering at SRM University.
Their venture has been gaining popularity with time, she says. “People get so very excited to see their favorite food in the form of miniatures. They use them to give as gifts during parties, weddings and other occasions. We feel happy to be a part of their celebration through our products.” They also customise orders for clients – so you can have a rava idli instead of a plain one if you so wish!
Starting such a venture has its own set of challenges. “We prefer working in sunlight so that we can do all the detailing well,” says Neha, adding that they spend eight to 10 hours each day on their miniatures. Due to the time constraints, they often end up declining new orders as they don’t want to compromise on their quality.
Both mother and daughter also have other demands on their time but being focused on their vision has helped them stay balanced. Neha is a bright student academically, and has charted out a strict daily schedule for both study and miniature-making. Sudha, whose husband works in a public sector company and who also has an 18-year-old son, manages their home along with her career.
The process of crafting food in clay has taught them a lot about different cuisines and dishes from around the country – from starters to main course to desserts. It takes them a minimum of three hours to craft a dosa to even three days to make complicated dishes like thalis, Italian food, sizzlers, biryani and other rice varieties where each grain has to be made separately.
Feedback from customers is always positive and encouraging. A little boy called them recently to tell them that his cute miniature paneer tikka gave him even more joy than the real paneer tikka and he looked at it every night before sleeping and every morning when he woke up.
A famous restaurateur once asked them about the Masterchef who had made the finger-licking food in their authentic south Indian thali, mistaking it to be real!
Says Neha about her delightful craft: “Real food can’t last beyond a certain amount of time, but our miniatures last forever!”
First published in eShe’s August 2020 issue