A Feast of Imagination (Part 1): Meet the Fandom Foodies Who Share Their Passion for Pop Culture Through Cooking
“Harry's mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.” -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
What Potterhead hasn't salivated at J.K. Rowling's descriptions of the mountains of food at the Start-of-Term Feast in Hogwarts' Great Hall? Who could turn down a slice of cherry pie at the Double R Diner from Twin Peaks? How many Portal fans conclude a gaming session with a thick slice of chocolate cake? Pop culture is rich with mouth-watering references to food and drinks, from butterbeer to bantha milk, Hylian rice to poké puffs. Thanks to a devoted and highly imaginative community of food bloggers, these dishes don't have to remain trapped in the realm of fantasy.
Katharina McCawley is a pastry chef and self-described geek who started her food blog—Pretty Cake Machine—while on a break from her career as a pastry chef. It didn't take long for her passion for pop culture to find its way into her recipes.
“For me personally, I think it's just that I express myself creatively through pastry. It's the lens I see everything through and I'm constantly thinking about it,” she explained. “Food has the visual element, but also the experience of taste and smell. It feels like a full fan art experience. Making recipes is especially cool because they're inherently made to be replicated by other people. There's an interactive element there that makes it incredibly rewarding.”
It didn't take long for other pop culture food bloggers including Diana Ault of Fiction-Food Café and Carrie of Witchy Kitchen to find their way to McCawley's blog and in 2016 a small but mighty community came together to found Fandom Foodies. Each month the creative minds behind Fandom Foodies (@fandomfoodies) select a unique theme and create recipes that correspond to that month's subject. Past themes have included Firefly Feast, Battle Chef Buffet, Jane Austen Bites, Witchtober and PokéNOM. McCawley's favorite themes thus far include Cats in Fiction, which inspired an outpouring of creativity as well as the revelation that pop culture is riddled with felines.
PokéNOM was a fun month because some recipes were cute and light-hearted while others took a decidedly dark turn, at least from the perspective of a Pokémon. The Gluttonous Geek created a recipe for Seared Farfetch'd with leeks. In the introduction to the recipe, the chef wrote, “When it comes to Pokémon, I like to think in terms of Charles Darwin and his famous Glutton's Club where he and his naturalist friends would set out to dine on ‘birds and beasts which were before unknown to the human palate.' While some may think of Pokémon as cute creatures that speak only their name and battle for gyms and candy, I also see them as delicious snacks housed in hyper-dimensional bento balls.”
Carrie at Witchy Kitchen drew inspiration from Zubat, a blue, bat-like Pokémon with wings. “Catherine at the Gluttonous Geek joked that she was the only one so far twisted enough to make a play on actually cooking the little creatures, and I laughed to myself because oh yeah, I'm going there too,” Carrie wrote in the introduction to her recipe. “These BBQ wings are cooked with the wing and drumette intact to look battier, and with an Asian-inspired blackberry BBQ sauce that is both sweet and spicy and zubat-tinged purple. With a garlicky buttermilk dipping sauce, they turned into a dish we could really sink our teeth into.”
Some themes prove more challenging than others. Broader themes like "Mythology" or "Witches" are difficult because they encompass so much territory although she acknowledges that the recipes are less predictable, saying, “If the theme is Star Wars you know there's going to be bantha milk. Broad themes, though? You're gonna get some surprising contributions.”
Some months, McCawley immediately knows what she wants to make. Other months, she begins the process by reading and watching source materials for inspiration. “Sometimes I'm directly replicating a food from the source material, and that's easier,” she explained. “Sometimes I'm doing something more interpretive and I have to try and imagine, ‘What flavor matches this character's personality?' or ‘What would this fictional ingredient taste like?'” McCawley estimates that she spends between 5 and 20 hours developing each new monthly recipe, although she insists that participants can choose the amount of time they wish to devote to the hobby.
The Fandom Foodies concept proved popular and over the past three years Fandom Foodies has attracted more than 150 members including professional bloggers, hobbyists, professional chefs and pop culture fans who just want to look at pretty pictures of food.
McCawley is happy to welcome anyone with a passion for food and pop culture to join the community, and insists there's no pressure to participate in monthly themes.
“The most important thing is to make stuff that you have fun with. Don't compare yourself to anybody else and just make something that brings you joy,” she said. “A concern I hear a lot is that people feel bad if they can't contribute every month or even most months. Don't stress about that! Even if you're joining in once a year, we're excited to have you. I'm coming off a long break myself, and I'm one of the founding members. Life happens and we all pop in and out. All that matters is that you are having a good time cooking up fan art.”
Stay tuned for a Feast of Imagination (Part 2) and the opportunity to meet more pop culture enthusiasts who celebrate their favorite fandoms through food.