You’ve Got To See These Wild Food Optical Illusions

August 23, 2019

During a quick midnight scroll, Ben Churchill’s Instagram page looks normal.

A selfie here, a coffee-table book there, and a few inevitable foodie photos. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that chef Churchill’s Instagram isn’t normal at all.

In fact, it’s quite extraordinary. His seemingly standard grid is sprinkled with photos of edible ashtrays and decadent kitchen sponges. These desserts, at first glance, look like trash or everyday objects.

Sounds crazy, right?

That’s because Churchill isn’t your average chef–he’s a food illusionist, which means he transforms desserts into edible works of art.

A quick look at Churchill’s page would convince any scroller-by that he’s a true master of mind-bending creations. From “rotten” fruit made with fresh parfait to “bleeding organs” filled with ganache, Churchill has made quite a few expectation-defying dishes.

To be quite honest, our minds are blown, and we’re not surprised at all he has a book coming out shortly based on these projects.

Churchill credits his lack of formal training for inspiring him to push boundaries and have fun working on his craft.

“My rules? Ignore the rules. If you want to do something, don’t question if you should, ask yourself how you’re gonna,” Churchill told Mental Floss.

Here are 15 of our favorites.

1. A seemingly dirty kitchen sponge.

It’s one of his most well-known creations.  

Although this photo looks like the sponge your mom used to use to scrub the kitchen sink, it’s actually an olive oil sponge cake (Oh, the pun–I see what he did there.) that’s topped with a mint crumb and served with foamed sweet milk and a toffee sauce. Honestly, this sounds delicious.

2. Just a simple breakfast for one. 

The accuracy of this “egg” is phenomenal.

Made with coconut pannacotta, mango gel, and a grilled lemon sponge this “breakfast” is actually a decadent dessert. I’m not a fan of fried eggs, but I’d definitely give this sweet treat a taste. After all, you can’t go wrong with a pannacotta. (I wonder if the grilled lemon sponge in this dessert is the same recipe he used to make the dirty kitchen sponge.)

3. A perfectly-crafted chocolate plant pot.

A plant that’s safe to eat and you don’t have to water it? Count me in! 

Chef Churchill constructed this chocolate beauty out of chocolate creme and carrot cake. It’s topped with grated chocolate and an orange and carrot gel. While I’m a little iffy on how chocolate creme and carrot cake would taste together, this dessert is without a doubt one-of-a-kind. I mean, do you know anyone who’s crafting high-end flower pots out of chocolate? The closest I’ve ever gotten to creating something even remotely close to this was when I was in elementary school and chocolate mud pies were still a thing. (You know, the ones with gummy worms, chocolate pudding, and an Oreo cookie topping.)

4. Fried chicken with a side of french fries slathered in gravy (or maybe it’s BBQ sauce).

This. Is. Amazing. 

Chef Churchill didn’t leave too much of a description for this one, but I’m already drolling. Who would have thought chocolate cake (?) could be transformed into fried chicken? And just take a look at those fries, would you? They’re covered in what I assume is supposed to be gravy or barbeque sauce, which is probably chocolate.

5. An ashtray filled with butts. 

Hard pass. 

This edible ashtray is made with (You guessed it!) vanilla pannacotta, smoky lapsang gel, meringue powder, and chocolate. I could get my head around the other designs, but this one? I’m not so sure. I know the aesthetic is unappealing desserts, but I think I’d pass on this one. It’s creative, though. I’ll give him that.

6. Trendy toast is at it again. 

Except, this is cake. 

Remember when artisanal toast was having a moment? (Maybe it’s still having a moment?) Well, this is Churchill’s imaginative representation of trendy toast. It’s a vanilla cake, cream, and a mango gel yolk. Who says you can’t eat cake for breakfast?

7. A raw beet covered in dirt. 

The soil’s made of chocolate. 

This, my friends, is a chocolate and beetroot brownie tumbling out of a chocolate plant pot (like the one from earlier). To make this cute creation, Churchill forms a brownie batter out of beetroot juice, brownie crumbs, and chocolate. He then wraps it in cellophane and sets it in the fridge to form a root-like shape. Once it’s hardened, he sets the “root” down to dust it in beetroot meringue powder and cocoa powder to give it that covered-in-dirt look.

8. Sickenly sweet soap. 

That’s filled with lavender gel and chamomile shortbread. 

Did your parents ever make you eat soap when you were a kid? When I was little, I typed out a curse word on my computer and hen my dad saw it, he made me chew on a bar of Dial soap in front of my best friend. I swore I’d never type another curse word again. (And yet, here I am.) Anyway, this talented chef created a completely believable replica bar of soap out of lemon parfait and then filled it with lavender gel and chamomile.

9. A moldy orange. 

It’s actually a fresh orange parfait. 

This “moldy” orange is made with fresh orange parfait and bubblegum meringue powder. While I’m sure this dessert smells really good, I’d be a little hesitant to put it in my mouth, parfait or not. Churchill sure has a knack for constructing disgustingly delicious masterpieces, don’t you think?

10. Summer is canceled. 

You can all go home now. 

A long time ago, Dairy Queen was advertising the fact that you can turn their blizzards upside down without spilling them. Well, I tried it a little too late and my entire ice cream fell to the ground. I was a child, so I sniffled about the mess. Fortunately, the lady behind the counter made me a new one. With all that being said, this pseudo ice cream looks ridiculously realistic. I’m really digging the sugar glass–it adds a nice touch.

11. A dessert hot dog. 

Because, why not?

This “hot dog” is made with chocolate, cake crumbs, chopped strawberries that have been mixed together and frozen into the shape of a hot dog. Once frozen, Churchill covers the dog in chocolate before preparing a choux pastry for the bun. This strange delicacy is then topped off with marinated apples, orange cream, and strawberry coulis.

12. We can’t have a dessert hot dog without a dessert cheeseburger, can we?

Two isn’t always better than one, except for when it comes to dessert.

Churchill used a chocolate rice crispy cake to make the “hamburger” in this video. He then placed it atop a sponge cake that was covered in orange ganache, green chocolate, and caramelized pear. He finished the burger off with white chocolate (dyed yellow), diced pear, and another sponge cake. Before putting the actual bun top on the burger, Churchill repeated the process to make a double-decker cheeseburger.

13. A pizza cake. 

Who wouldn’t want a pizza cake?

This creation started out as a normal sponge cake (made in a springform pan). It was then topped with strawberry jam and grated white chocolate shortly before Churchill took a pastry torch to it. Following the fire show, the chef created a pepperoni topping out of strawberry marzipan.

14. Chocolate nuts and bolts. 

Strange, but intriguing. 

To make this treat, Churchill filled a mold (that looks like nuts and bolts) with chocolate and banana syrup. Once frozen, he sprayed the chocolatey pieces with edible silver and placed the tiny, tool-like treats on a bed of crumbled chocolate sprinkled with caramelized banana and bite-sized brownie pieces.

15. A hearty helping of pasta and meatballs. 

It really looks like the real thing. 

Chef Churchill starts this dish off with watermelon jam and chopped strawberries. In a separate bowl, he mixes chocolate ganache with brownie crumbs to make the meatballs. Then, he ever-so-carefully slices sheets of vanilla egg custard to create the pasta. The dish is garnished with grated white chocolate and lemon balm.

It’s safe to safe none of these dishes are what they seem.

Would you be down to try one of these crazy creations? Let us know!