Cover Image: Samantha Lee

Let food be thy medicine, served as a work of art too—that’s the mantra of this Malaysian food artist, who posts pictures of quirky and healthy lunch boxes assembled for her daughters on her Instagram account

If like us, gratification can be had in admiring prettily assembled food to bookmark for cooking inspiration, you would have come across Samantha Lee, an iconic Malaysian Instagram food artist. For those who have not had the pleasure of ogling her quirky edible art, get acquainted. The mum-of-two started creating cartoon-inspired dishes in 2008 to get her daughters to eat healthy, and in 2011, she posted her plated works-of-art on Instagram, which garnered a viral storm on social media. Today, with her children a little older and acknowledged as an international food artist, Samantha continues to refine her culinary talent, having recently earned a Le Cordon Bleu certification.

We reached out to the artsy mother to find out how she keeps the creative juice flowing constantly. Besides attributing it to a disciplined daily routine, she lets her imagination run wild by recipe-testing various cookbooks, mostly bestowing them with a twist through ingredient switch-ups.

Below, she shares with Malaysia Tatler some of her recipes to success.

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As a mum and food artist, sticking to a daily ritual is essential

5.40am Wake up, prepare my kids for school

7.30am Gym with my trainer

10am Coffee, Emails, journalling, sketching, ideas

12pm Lunch, groceries, prep for food art session, photography, dinner

10.30pm Bedtime

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Influencing as a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef

"I hope to inspire people with simple and healthy cooking. There are many reasons people cook less, their lives are busier and a double-income household means neither partner has the time or energy to cook every night. There are also more people living alone, who often don’t want to cook for themselves. When I get so busy that the thought of cooking makes me want to weep with exhaustion, I simplify—stir fry vegetables, eggs and rice for dinner."

(Related: How Does Astrie Sunindar-Ratner Transition Between Family And Work?)

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Tweaking lunch boxes for her growing kids

"I still create bento lunches but in a whole lot of new way after Le Cordon Bleu. More condiments and flavours in a plate."

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How food art became part of her life

"I started by making a bento box meal. That first experience was quite a tiring piece. I spent a lot of time preparing and cooking just for my older daughter. The tools I purchased had me waste more food that didn’t make it into the bento box. I was demotivated and stopped making for a few weeks. Then, I sketched and executed the ingredients before turning them into plated food art. I prefer to make things simple and practical, everyone in the family eats the same meal. Only difference is the kids get the food-art while the adults eat it as is."

(Related: 7 Instagram-Worthy Superfood Bowls In Singapore)

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The cornerstones of an ideal packed lunch

"Healthy and delicious, with minimal food wastage. Be practical."

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Proudest food art creations?

"All celebrities and movie characters! Lady Gaga, Psy, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter series, Grease, etc."

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Navigating the time-consuming process for Instagram content

"I need to stay disciplined: I follow through my daily routine strictly. Also, sketching my ideas before making them into food art helps."

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Besides an imagination, basic tools are necessary

"I use what I have in the kitchen. Chef knife, cling wrap, skewers and scissors are what I go to for to create a plate of food art."

(Related: Here's A Smarter Way To Design Your Kitchen)

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Get the kids involved

"My daughters help or watch me in the kitchen. Once in a while, they create their own plates when I’m not at home."

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Getting visual: inspiration for the next edible art

"I don’t just sit around for an idea to occur, instead, I actively seek them out, through cookbooks, illustrations, movies, from my daughters..."

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How to create healthy, child-approved meals? Samantha’s practical advice

"First, keep meals simple! Second, get kids involved in the preparations of meals. Thirdly, always purchase nutritious and fresh food. Finally, eat together! It’s part of bonding and making memories. It can be over weekday family breakfasts, dinners or weekend brunches."