They’re easy. They’re silly. They’re healthy. They’re clever. They’re artistic. They’re delicious. They’re fun. They’re a great way to start the day. One breakfast at a time, Bill and Claire Wurtzel are determined to make you laugh and eat and play and laugh some more. Riffing over the years with oatmeal, eggs, apples, and nuts, it is finally ours to share…Funny Food!
Not since Joost Elffers’ Play With Your Food has food been so ridiculous and so endlessly diverting. Parents and children will giggle through breakfast. Teachers and students can laugh some more making snacks or desserts after lunch. This is a book filled with nothing but engaging spontaneity and simplicity that makes you say, “I can do that.” And, you can...the consequences are yummy.
Really, who doesn’t like to play with food? Bill Wurtzel, a jazz guitarist, has been making these plates for his wife, Claire, for as many years as they’ve been married. Now they are turning a hobby into an art form with a social message. Their goal is to discourage obesity by inspiring children—and adults—to improve their eating habits by creating meals and snacks that are not only nutritious, but fun.
These are not your mother’s smiley-face sandwiches. In Bill’s world, carrots turn into airplanes; boiled eggs into jugglers, and pears into guitar players. As gracefully as Picasso’s ceramic plates found endless form so do Wurtzel’s portraits, which seem to grow out of almost anything—cheerios and bananas; lox and bagels; oatmeal, blueberries, and strawberries. Sometimes you think he is portrait artist and you could swear you just saw Sigmund Freud emerging from a pear or Shakespeare growing out of an apple. Sometimes the plates are just plain fanciful. “Your breakfasts don’t have to look like they’ll hang in the Louvre,” he says. “It’s the gesture that counts.” But it sure looks like he riffed on Matisse’s paper cutout dancers with a papaya.
In addition to creating Funny Food - which contains both recipes and how-to photographs - Bill and Claire have been conducting workshops for children at Public School 188 on the Lower East Side of New York, teaching them to use their imaginations to improve their health “rather than just putting lettuce and vegetables on their trays.”
About Bill Wurtzel
Bill Wurtzel was an award-winning advertising creative director by day and jazz guitarist at night from 1960 to 1989, when he switched to a music career and became an occasional consultant to his daughter's ad agency wurtzelinc.com.
Bill won over 200 ad & design awards including the Gold Lion by Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (Best Commercial, Olympic Airlines); and the ASIFA Gold (World's Best Animated Commercial, Hanes Hosiery). He was an art director at CBS TV, and Executive Creative Director at top New York ad agencies Lampert (where he was also president), Hicks & Greist and Ketchum NY.
As a jazz musician,he played for many years with the Count Basie Countsmen, Bill Doggett, and Jimmy McGriff among other jazz legends. Bill performs weekly at HENRYS, and the American Museum of Folk Art (see billwurtzel.com). He is a founding director of the Jazz Foundation of America, which helps jazz and blues musicians in need jazzfoundation.org.
“I’ve been entertaining Claire with funny food since we were dating. Our wedding announcement has a photograph of me with steak and spaghetti on my chest. Breakfasts are spontaneous using whatever ingredients are on hand- with no pre-planning. My inspiration has always been making Claire smile.”
Claire and Bill have been married for 50 years, have two daughters, three grandchildren, and live in New York City.
About Claire Wurtzel
Claire Wurtzel has been an educator for 40 years, supporting teachers who work with students struggling with learning and/or behavior difficulties. She was on the faculty of Bank Street Graduate School for 17 years and taught–and was chair–of the Department of Special Education. She works with teachers, administrators, families, psychologists, librarians, and museum educators both nationally and internationally.
“My mother, an immigrant from Poland, was very proud and delighted in sharing what she learned in nutrition classes. In addition to learning how to stretch meals when supplies were scarce during and after the war, she learned about the importance of a good breakfast and healthy food.
In preparation for Funny Food, I called my three siblings to check on my memory. Each added something. My sister mentioned that Mom learned to cook potatoes in their skins to enhance their nutritional value. My brothers reminded me that Mom learned the dietary value of raw vegetables and we all still enjoy eating raw cabbage, carrots, celery, green beans, turnips and peas.
My mother’s openness to explore and change her long engrained cooking habits and her joy in learning how to prepare more nutritious meals are an inspiration to this day.
Claire and Bill have been married for 50 years, have two daughters, three grandchildren, and live in New York City.
10 Questions for Mr. & Ms. Funny Food: Bill & Claire Wurtzel
Bill Wurtzel, a jazz guitarist, has been making Funny Food plates for his wife Claire, since the early days of their 50-year marriage. Now the couple has turned a fun hobby into an art form with a social message. Their goal: To prevent obesity and reduce the risk of diabetes in children by them—and their parents—to improve their eating habits by creating meals that are not only nutritious, but also fun to make and eat. Welcome Books sat down with Bill and Claire for a quick Q&A. Meet Mr. and Ms. Funny Food!
1. Bill, you've been making your healthy plates of love for your wife Claire for over 50 years. Do you do any planning before hand? What inspired the very first plate?
I’ve been entertaining Claire with funny food since we were dating. Our wedding announcement has a photograph of me with steak and spaghetti on my chest. Breakfasts are spontaneous using whatever ingredients are on hand- with no pre-planning. My inspiration has always been making Claire smile.
2. Claire, you love the plates not only because eating something fun made you really enjoy eating healthy, but also because they made you smile, reminded you of being a young girl in the kitchen with your mother. Tell us about the day Bill made his first plate for you.
Although I don’t recall my first plate, I do remember Bill serving me breakfasts in bed with the food arranged artistically. I never expected carrots or celery on my eggs, but they looked fantastic. He continues to surprise me with new and wonderful breakfasts. Bill always asks what I want. It might be eggbeaters, or cottage cheese, yogurt or a pancake and then, who knows what else ends up on the plate. Bill knows that I count weight watcher points so he has memorized the quantities I want - ½ cup eggbeater, 1 cup of yogurt etc.
3. Claire, as a dedicated Weight Watcher, you've struggled with your weight and diet. How did Bill's breakfasts change how and what you ate?
I have always eaten well. My mother learned about nutrition at the Henry St. settlement House when I was a little girl. Bill has always been supportive as opposed to a partner who sabotages ones attempts of healthy eating. I don’t think of myself as ever being on a diet- I just eat well. As a matter of fact, when we first met Bill had terrible eating habits. His diet consisted of cokes, canned peas and corn, steak and brownies. When he saw me enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables it enticed him to try them as well. Now Bill eats every vegetable I serve and he loves salads. We have fruit for dessert. Every once in a while Bill has to have a real high calorie dessert, in moderation.
4. There is something very improvisational about you as a jazz musician. How does that relate to your "art" on the plates, do you think?
They are very closely connected. My jazz improvisations are very much like the breakfast creations. In fact, I will be conducting a jazz improvisation and Funny Food workshop at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Feb 11, 2012. Someone who hires me for jazz “gigs” knew about the upcoming book, asked me to combine the two.
5. You two have been in love since the day you met, but found taking responsibility for one another's health to be a deeply enriching experience for you both. How has actively taking responsibility for one another's health enhanced your relationship and later your relationship with your family?
We enjoy good health and want to live long healthy lives so it’s important to us to eat well and exercise. We raised our kids the same way. Our kids did not know people ate any thing other than fruit for dessert until they started having sleepovers at friends’ homes. When our daughter Nina, became a ballet dancer she would come home from class shocked by what her peers ate- especially when they thought they were “watching their weight” Many of the dancers ate sweetened yogurt and bags of raisins and nuts. They didn’t know the calorie content, or the nutritional value of what they were consuming. Now our grandchildren join us in making Funny Food creations.
6. When did you start making Funny Food plates and your kids and now your grandkids? How did you introduce Funny Food to them? Any favorite plates?
When our daughters were little Bill told them imaginary stories about the foods on their plate. They hurried to eat their vegetables before the “monster or lion” was gong to come and eat the chicken people and the broccoli trees.
7. Back when you were making your first plates for Claire, did you ever envision your Funny Food pastime as a book, a mission, that could help a nation of children eat better?
No, Bill was just having fun with food to entertain me. And, when I first met Bill he was an artist. We used to go out somewhere and I would read and he painted. Over the years, Bill used his incredible creativity in other ways. He was the Creative Director in several top ad agencies and played jazz “gigs” in the evening. He also did a lot of travel photography. I often wondered if he would ever paint again. I realize that the breakfasts are his canvas. It was quite a surprise to us when these breakfasts took off. In fact Bill didn’t even photograph them until about 5 or 6 years ago- on my insistence. He began sending them to friends and family and was astounded by the response. After there was a story about Bill as a jazz musician in the Times, Sam Roberts followed up with a story about Bill’s breakfasts and you know the rest of the story.
8. What separates Funny Food from other books and methods for getting kids to eat healthy, for example, Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious?
We want kids to have fun in a creative and interactive workshop as a way to learn about nutrition. We know from cognitive science that we all learn best in when in a joyful atmosphere. Also, we want children to know they’re eating and to take charge of what goes on their plate. We don’t want to hide the healthy ingredients. We also don’t want to dictate recipes- but to inspire people to eat well and make their own wacky images.
9. You recently started doing Funny Food Workshops in NYC Schools. How did the first one come about? What do the kids think? Teachers?
We began conducting these workshops a year ago. We started talking about the overwhelming statistics on childhood obesity and diabetes and thought the funny food creations might inspire kids and expand their vision of what they might eat for breakfast. Also, if a kid makes something themselves they are more likely to try eating it. In this way they expand their palate too. Pre and post assessments as well as our own observations show that the workshops are successful and teachers have been asking us to do more of them.
10. Plain and simple. What do you hope someone who picks up Funny Food?
I am shocked by the food preparation on the cooking shows. We a country in trouble if we continue eating the way we do. We would love to see families inspired to make and eat some of the healthy foods they see in the Funny Food book and change their eating habits. We would also like to see the school workshops integrated into a larger initiative to sustain the learning and reach more kids.
"A new art form that also delivers a social message!"
--The New York Times
“Wake up to fun!”
"Calling all parents...Go out and buy this book!"
--Shelley Goldberg, NY1
"Breakfast isn't usually heralded as a prime romantic moment, but with a little ingenuity, New York City jazz musician Bill Wurtzel and his wife, teacher Claire Wurtzel, made it just that."
“Your kid doesn’t want to eat real food for breakfast? No excuses. This book illustrates 365 breakfasts made of eggs, toast, cereal, pancakes, fruit, cheese, yogurt, and other good things...I can’t imagine any kid resisting eating foods like these.”
--Dr. Marion Nestle
"Bill and Claire Wurtzel’s book FUNNY FOOD is not only adorable and fun, it’s also educational and useful for parents who are having trouble getting their kids to try new foods. As a mom and a registered dietitian, I am always looking for ways to present new foods to my son and my clients. In this book, there are 365 fun, healthy, silly and creative breakfast ideas so you should have enough to keep you going for a while. If your kids are old enough, let them pick their favorites and help you create them. The more you engage them in the process, the more likely they are to try their creation."
--Elizabeth Fassberg MPH, RD owner of EAT FOOD, a food and nutrition consultancy in New York City ( http://eatfood.biz/pages/clients/index.html)
FUNNY FOOD: 365 FUN, HEALTHY, SILLY, CREATIVE BREAKFASTS is a 'must' for any general lending collection, especially those catering to parents. It features food that tastes great and can be easily and artistically displayed to entice kids. The author has spent the past fifty years transforming simple breakfast dishes into edible paintings for his wife, using common fare - Cheerios and bananas, lox and bagels, pancakes and more - as the palate for his art. Color photos pack a fun, whimsical collection perfect for any cookbook library and present dishes that will appeal to all ages.
--California Bookwatch, Midwest Book Review
Funny Food, A Book for Snackers, Eaters, and Artists!
The trickiest thing about the “recipes” in this book is not trying to follow them (they’re pretty simple), but allowing your child to eat them. Why? Because some of these creations are so artistic you might be tempted to glue them to the plate and hang them on your wall. Bill Wurtzel is the mastermind behind these fanciful, fun and healthy breakfast designs, which feature eggs, pancakes and waffles, fruits, oatmeal and cereals, toast and bagels. Claire, a teacher and his wife of 50 years, wrote the accompanying text—minimal instructions and some nutritional guidelines. But really, it’s the pictures of these amazing edible creations that do all the talking in this book. Tony the Tiger doesn’t stand a chance against any of these critters. Bon Appetit!
--NOLA Baby & Family Magazine
"Turn family breakfast from epic struggles to creative sessions filled with giggles and yummy noises with the new book "Funny Food: 365 Fun, Health, Silly, Creative Breakfasts...the book includes step-by-step instructions and easy tips for making your own food pictures."
--Moms Gear, Tribune Media Services
“What I love most about this book is the way the Wurtzels help kids eat healthier and make food appealing at the same time. There is no trickery here by hiding ingredients in dishes. Instead, the Wurtzels make dishes kids want to make and eat because it is plated in a fun and whimsical way. With the help of this book parents can get their kids excited about making and eating breakfast with ingredients that are probably already in their kitchen.”
--Kitchen Explorers on PBS Parents
“Oh, yes! Bill Wurtzel is the Pea-casso of cooking. He combines
wholesome ingredients with a healthy imagination to create incredible
"Unfamiliar fruits such as kiwi becomes a charming snack when plated as a cat face in Funny Food...more of look-book than cookbook, with page after page of inspiring images smattered with a few tips, recipes and instructions. For creative parents, the book will be an inspiration, with most of the faces and scenes easy to replicate just by looking at them."
--The Star Ledger
"The only person more excited than the kids was me"
"I love how they've used fresh wholesome ingredients to make a good breakfast, snack or healthy dessert."
“Funny Food turns the first meal of the day into a whimsical, artistic and, it's ok to smile while you eat, event! In our digitized world there may be few more noble tasks than to sit at a table with family starting the day sharing values, and creative ideas."
--Steven P Salsberg, Vice Chairman NYC Green Markets
"For me, the stuff is just great art.”
--Robert Sietsema, Fork in the Road (The Village Voice)
"Just too awesome. It's exactly what the title suggests: a book that's overflowing with fruit, pancakes, and eggs, all carved up in clever ways that look almost too good to eat.”
--Glamour Magazine’s health and fitness blog, Vitamin G
“Oh, what fun this will be for families! This mix of the practical and creative aspects of cooking and information about nutrients and health makes Funny Food a powerful weapon in the ongoing battle against both childhood and adult obesity.”
--Eleanor R. Kulleseid, former Director of Libraries at Mercy College and Bank Street College of Education
"Bill and Claire Wurtzel have found a wondrous way to pack imagination and fun
into their breakfast cookbook...Food has beauty -- and beauty, in
the eyes of the Wurtzels, includes laugher and smiles, as well as art and
--Juliette Rossant, author of Super Chef
“Sure, the intended audience for Funny Food: 365 Fun, Healthy, Silly, Creative Breakfasts is a few decades younger than we are. But hey, we could all use a little more food fun in these days of infinite online cassoulet critics, no?...But what we love is this is truly a cookbook, not just a sensationalized photo gallery as similar books tend to be.”
--Squid Ink (LA Weekly’s blog)
"I'm sure I'll need lots of ideas and inspiration when the time comes to make breakfast for my little one and this super cute book has tons of colorful & interesting ways to make eating healthy in the morning fun."
--Eat It: The Brooklyn Food Blog
“Funny Food had both of my kids engaged and laughing out loud at the imaginative, food art photographs inside...When I told them, that yes, we too can make a bicyclist out of eggs and veggies, they were thrilled..I witnessed excitement in their faces I’d been hoping for all these laborious years of cooking meals that only I actually wanted to consume.”
--Aspen Daily News
"What I liked best was the little tips and tidbits of information that are included on almost every page. Did you know that the larger the orange, the sweeter the taste? Did you know that eggs from free range chickens have more Omega 3s? I do now! The book has lots of ideas to make breakfast special."
--Book Bargains and Previews
"I am charmed by this photographic feast of eggs, bacon, oatmeal, waffles — all dolled up to look like, well, dolls and owls and fish . . . even the Mona Lisa. But amusing as it is, I’m even more enthusiastic about Claire and Bill’s very serious efforts to fight childhood obesity."
"Under the tutelage of Bill and Claire Wurtzel, breakfast can become the most enjoyable meal of the day."
--The Canton Repository
"Celebrates wacky and delicious"
--Make it Better Magazine
“Funny Food speaks to me as a mother who wants her child to love food and, at the same time, understand the importance of eating healthy food. It also spoke to the Speech Therapist in me...eating is a time of engagement, conversation, laughter and exploration, which in turn broadens children’s willingness to try new foods.Funny Food is highly recommended for parents, teachers, speech therapists, and anyone with a creative interest in food.”
“Making Healthy Food Look Good Makes Kids Like It”
--Smart Parent Program (blog)
“This collection of 365 Fun, Healthy Silly Creative Breakfasts can engage the most finicky eater! And for the artistically shy, the Wurtzel’s even include some tips on how to construct your own funny food.”
--Fresh Local Food (blog)
"It is so important to start the day with a healthy breakfast... if creating funny faces from food accomplishes the task, then Bravo!”
--Maria Loi, Chef/Owner Loi Restaurant
“One of the most interesting cookbooks out this spring isn’t really a cookbook: it’s more about meal inspiration...Perfection isn’t the point: fun, healthy breakfasts are...this book may just be what your kids need to learn to love breakfast.”
--The Georgia Straight
“This is a wonderful book to inspire younger people to cook and a boost of creativity for experienced cooks who can see how to use fruits vegetables and nuts to make everyday dishes shine.”
"What a celebration of food artistry and edible delights! The abundance of joyful and playful images in this cookbook will inspire all cooks–children, families and friends–to imitate or create their own artistic visions for a healthy breakfast–or for lunch or a light supper."
--Ann Marie Mott, The Bank Street College of Education, teacher of The Art Workshop
“Clearly our mothers were wrong. Bill and Claire Wurtzel prove with out a doubt that you should indeed play with your food! As a professional chef and restaurateur who believes equally in good taste and good nutrition I highly recommend Funny Food as a manual on how to eat well and have fun at the same time!"
--Matthew Tivy, Chef Owner, Cafe du Soleil, Chez Lucienne, Soleil Caterers