With a tiny knife forged from a nail, this Calgary artist cooks up miniature meals for free

A Calgary man has been cooking up astonishingly tiny meals for perfect strangers in a shoebox-sized kitchen.

Tom Brown sets up his mini-kitchen in public places and offers up diminutive edibles to passersby

Mini kitchen on display

5 years ago
Duration 0:33
A Calgary artist shows off his miniature culinary creations.

A Calgary man has been cooking up astonishingly tiny meals for perfect strangers in a shoebox-sized kitchen.

"I basically go and set up on the street with it and cook miniature food, which I distribute freely to passersby," said Tom Brown, a local artist who specializes in miniatures.

He describes the activity as a sort of performance art that prompts people to reconsider their perspective, while also spurring conversation.

"It puts you outside of the ordinary world for a couple minutes," he says.

The portable kitchen comes complete with utensils like a cast-iron pan Brown crafted with a milling machine, and a butcher knife he forged from a nail.

He's also built more complex kitchen gadgets, including a pair of salad tongs loaded with a miniature spring and an adjustable pasta roller barely bigger than a postage stamp.

There's even a french-fry punch capable of churning out sliced potatoes for a miniature deep fryer.

The tiny kitchen includes a miniature cast-iron pan, butcher knife, pasta roller and french-fry punch. Everything is fully functional. (Mike Symington/CBC)

"Everything I make has to be fully functional," Brown said.

He cooks on an alcohol-fuelled stove, which he fills up with an eyedropper.

There's also an attached oven and a sink for cleaning up.

Maureen Thiessen and her family spotted Brown's set up in Calgary's East Village over the weekend and stopped by to try some tiny corn dogs.

"Whoooaa!" the kids exclaimed as Brown dropped a batter-covered dog into the pan, where it sizzled in less than a thimble-full of oil.

"It was fabulous — such a fun little surprise on our walk this morning," Thiessen said of the mini kitchen.

"Everything is cuter when it's tiny like that."

Tom Brown prepares a mini corn dog (made from soy) to fry up in a tiny skillet on a pint-sized stove. (Mike Symington/CBC)

To reduce the risk of food-borne illness, Brown doesn't prepare any meat in the mini-kitchen. (The tiny corn dogs are made from soy.)

He said safety is a top concern and he's sure to explain to people what's in each tiny dish before they eat it, in case they have any allergies.

In some cases, he asks people to sign a tiny waiver.

Brown even takes to-go orders, serving up some dishes in tiny pizza boxes or doggy bags.

"I let everybody walk away with a piece of the art," he said. "They have something they can take home with them."

Tom Brown takes his miniature kitchen out in public and offers up tiny treats to passersby. (Mike Symington/CBC)

In the time it takes to prepare the miniature dishes, Brown said he sometimes strikes up surprisingly intimate conversations with people waiting for their food.

"They just sense it's a space to talk and they'll spill their guts to me," he said.

"I've had so many people come and share their whole philosophy of life. And I love that. I think that is the essence of art and culture."

He recalled one day in particular when he was on an artist's residency in Cape Town, South Africa, and took the miniature kitchen to an area filled with street vendors who didn't speak English.

"We had nothing in common," Brown said.

"But when I set the kitchen up they recognized what it was and by the end of it, even though I couldn't speak to them, we were great friends and communicating in a way that's outside of language."

You can read more about Brown's mini kitchen on his website.

With files from Mike Symington