“I always eat with my eyes first,” Fiona Afshar says. It appears to be true – the self-taught cook has made a name for herself on social media as something of a pasta artist. She makes her own pasta by hand, forming it into unique shapes and making geometric and floral patterns for her colourful creations.
The finished products and dishes go up on her Instagram page, where her creativity has earned her more than 100,000 followers. Many of her fans also tune into her YouTube channel, on which she shares other recipes.
Afshar, 54, used to work as a computer programmer and then a florist before she considered cooking as a potential career. Her love for food, however, extends all the way back to childhood. “My best birthday gift at aged 12 was a 500-page cookbook without pictures. I loved reading it over and over again,” she recalls.
She learnt how to make pasta on her own, following tutorials on YouTube. She eventually mastered making the various shapes – fettuccine, rigatoni, fusilli and ravioli, among others – and discovered her flair for playing with patterns and hues. "Creating art and beautiful things has always been my passion," she says.
She achieves her vivid colours by adding natural ingredients, such as spinach, kale and beetroot, or dried vegetable powders. For her purple pasta, for example, she mixes in blueberries or blue spirulina with a red vegetable.
This started through pure experimentation. “I always ask myself what flavours would go with a dish or what herb or spice can I add to make it more healthy and vibrant without overpowering the flavours. So I started incorporating ingredients that I would normally put in the sauce, and it completely worked without affecting the texture of my dough,” she explains.
Afshar’s palette is inspired by the sights at her local farmer’s market in Malibu, California, where she lives. “That is where I get inspired for most of my pasta colours, with the seasonal herbs and veggies,” she says.
Her patterns and shapes are made with cookie cutters or other household items. She has also taken to adding herbs and edible flowers to her creations.
Afshar also bakes, sharing her tips on sourdough bread and home-made pizza dough online. She describes her style of cooking as “rustic, beautiful and easy to prepare”, and although she is known for her Italian food, she has other recipes up her sleeve. “I actually get inspired by a variety of cuisines, and try to make them my own,” she says.
She also likes to improvise as she prepares her meals. "One thing to know about my cooking is that I do not like to follow a recipe, even if it's mine. I love bringing new ideas and flavours into my dish as I'm in the process of cooking."
When it comes to presenting her meals, aesthetics are part of the experience. "I think that changes the conversation at the dinner table. There is a wow factor and an excitement that I see in everyone's eyes. To me, that's priceless and very gratifying," she says.