by Amadeus Finlay
It is commonly accepted that tropical fruits are good for the soul, but how about the exhibit floor? Philadelphia-based chef, Joseph Poon certainly seems to think so. For the past 20 years, this award-winning creator of Asian fusion cuisine has been gracing tradeshows across the country with his unique art of watermelon carving. Just this summer, Poon entertained the crowds at PMA Foodservice Conference and Expo in Monterey, Calif., and at the New England Produce show in Boston, Mass., with the 69-year old artisan showing no signs of stopping any time soon.
“I’ve made friends and built relationships with so many people that I’ve met and worked with at the tradeshows,” says Poon, “the visitors really like the watermelon carving displays. The art draws them to the booth and then I get to talk with them.”
His unique style is influenced by the Chinese tradition of carving fruit for special occasions, where artists present ideas in intricate detail with an emphasis placed on the ability to use an entire fruit as the canvas. For Poon, the challenge of the practice is what makes it so attractive. The chef’s more extravagant endeavors include turning pumpkins into swans and finding dragons in watermelons, but it is in the fine detailing of flowers and eyes that Poon demonstrates his mastery.
Poon first took his art onto the exhibit floor after the National Watermelon Promotion Board, for which he is a consultant and spokesperson, asked him to appear at their booth at the PMA show. This appearance launched his career in the tradeshow industry, and while Poon still supports the Board at events, his watermelon carving at conventions has led him to support brands such as Kroger, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Dexas.
But that’s not all. This native of Hong Kong also studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and made the discovery that if you submerge carved potatoes in water and wine vinegar in a clear glass bowl, they will remain white. Poon has also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as being the recipient of the Asian American Award for Outstanding Community Service and the March of Dimes Guy Przybycien Award for volunteer acts within the community and excellence in culinary arts. Not bad for someone who arrived in Philadelphia as a young man with little grasp of the English language and just $8 in his pocket.
For more info, visit www.josephpoon.com Photograph by Deborah Reast
This story originally appeared in the November/December issue of Exhibit City News, p. 38. For original layout, see our digital flipbook after November 1 at https://issuu.com/search?q=exhibit%20city%20news .