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Edible Book Festival celebrates an appetite for books

As attention-grabbers go, the sentence uttered Sunday afternoon by Chris Fritton as he stood atop a chair near the entrance of Western New York Book Arts Center, turned some heads.

“No eating of the books,” Fritton told the people attending the Edible Book Festival.

“I feel it’s so tempting, especially for the younger kids here who see something that looks so interesting,” Fritton later explained. “A lot of time if it’s a cake and it looks very tasty, they want to put their finger in the frosting. They can’t – not yet.”

The international Edible Book Festival is an event that takes place annually on or around April 1. Participants create edible books that are exhibited, documented and then consumed. Similar events are held in Australia, Brazil, India, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, The Netherlands, Russia and Hong Kong.

In Buffalo, the sixth annual Edible Book Festival featured a panel of four judges who rated each of the 25 entries in three categories: taste, creative use of materials and most “book-like.”

As studio director of the book arts center, Fritton operates the letter-press print shop in the basement and curates exhibits. Fritton’s “Romaine & Julienne” was a two-part entry that featured a starburst of romaine lettuce leaves with a red bell-pepper heart, and julienned lunch meat and cheese arranged in the shape of a heart.

Many of the entries put smiles on the faces of those who attended the fundraiser:

“The South Peeps Diet” was a chocolate espresso-coconut milk cake topped with graham-cracker crumbles that resembled a beach that was populated by marshmallow bunnies.

“The Monster Book of Monsters,” crafted from baklava, nuts, chocolate and marzipan, was an early favorite of one of the judges.

“Peter Pan (cake)” a vegan entry, was built from pancakes, vanilla frosting and licorice. “Snacktastic Mr. Fox,” based on Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was a cake decorated to resemble a fox.

Victoria Harms, 15, from John F. Kennedy High School in Cheektowaga, frosted the cake that became “Charlotte’s Web.” It was one of her school’s three entries.

Richard Kegler, who founded WNY Book Arts Center six years ago, is now artistic director emeritus. As one of the judges, Kegler was credited with bringing the Edible Book Festival to Buffalo.

“Buffalo has every reason to be part of this,” Kegler said, clipboard in hand. “It draws a crowd that may not regularly attend other book art events. This is much more of a foodie event.”

Kegler said April 1 was chosen to commemorate the birthday of French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who wrote “Physiologie Du Gout” (“Philosophy of Taste: Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy”).

Program director Khrista Tabak said the festival encourages people of all ages to use a medium they may not have considered to create art.

Charles Saunders and Mary Simpson of Allentown have attended the festival in previous years. Simpson, the executive director of the Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda, said the event is always on the couple’s radar.

“There are some of these entries that I would actually like to eat,” Saunders said. “Although there are some that are best left intact.”