As a child, local artist Tom Brown was never truly satisfied having non-functional toys. Rooted in a desire to make them work, he recalls compulsively making his own miniature playthings from a young age.

“I really wanted a guitar, but I also really wanted to make a guitar. The only tools I had at my disposal were small tools, so I ended up making small guitars,” he says of his nine-year-old self.

Today, with over 18,000 followers on Instagram, Brown, 27, is popular for his miniature kitchen, a project he started during his time at Alberta College of Art and Design. The idea spawned from Brown’s intention to create environments in his work.

“The most intimate environment to me is the kitchen. You have such great conversations and food is also something that is so intimate to people, yet taken for granted in some ways.”

Miniature Kitchen 2Tom Brown deep frying french fries in his handmade cast-iron wok. He often scavenges used electronics to find metals to build with. Photo by Emily Thwaites.

Brown attributes his fascination with tiny art to something called the ‘alienation effect’, where art takes a familiar thing and renders it in a new way, making it unfamiliar.

“Our minds are used to seeing things in a certain way to the point that we don’t even see them anymore, but when you see it produced differently … the brain is encouraged to see it in a new way and kind of experience it for the first time.”

The 10x10x16 inch kitchen is fully functional and even folds for transportation. One side serves as the prep counter, with cupboards full of tools including cutlery, a pasta maker, sushi mat, and muffin tray made from thimbles and aluminum sheet. The other side is the production counter, with a two-tank water system, cooler and stove.

“You fill it with Everclear alcohol and it burns so I can cook on that surface. My challenge is actually keeping the stove from getting too hot.”

During the warmer months, Brown can be found cooking at some of his favourite spots in Calgary, an initiative he calls “Feeding the Masses”. Limited to where he can take the kitchen on foot or by bike, he frequents East Village, Eau Claire and Kensington. He anticipates being back on the streets in April, handing out free pint-sized portions to passers-by.

Cooking on the street is a theatrical performance, says Brown, who enjoys the connection with strangers his kitchen stimulates. “People will come and sit with me for the entire hour and a half. They find it as an invitation to open up and that’s the thing I love most about it.”

Miniature Kitchen 4 copyTom Brown has been fascinated with miniature art since childhood. He created his miniature kitchen as a way to get people to think differently about the way they view food. Photo by Emily Thwaites.

When he first started, Brown’s signature dish was pizza — he would even hand craft tiny pizza boxes to serve up his creations. His other culinary pursuits include spring rolls, french fries, donuts and jalapeño poppers.

Right now, Brown works part-time at Blue Star Diner in Bridgeland, while earning about half of his income by selling miniature art.

His second project, Finders Keepers, involves hiding tiny objects around Calgary and posting video clues on his Instagram account @tombrowncreates.

“Some of the recent hits have been a little axe, Moleskine journal and a jigsaw puzzle. Right now it’s on average ten minutes from the time I post to the time somebody’s found it.”

As for next steps, Brown says he’d like to continue growing the kitchen for another couple of years. “I think it will reach a natural conclusion at some point, but I really want to pay the respect that I feel the kitchen deserves because it’s kind of taken on a life of its own.”

Miniature Kitchen 3A special Super Bowl 2018 concoction, Tom Brown created tiny jalapeño poppers. Photo by Emily Thwaites.

Editor: Polly Eason | 

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