GEORGE TOWN, Nov 29 — A graphic designer, Sean Lau learned how to make replica food — you know the kind that looks so real you want to eat it? — about 20 years ago. Today, his company is the leading provider of realistic-looking replica food for restaurants and hotels in Malaysia.

What started as a routine project for a client became a passion for him and eventually, a vision of using his type of art to promote food and at the same time, impart the lessons that one can glean from food.

The 43-year-old opened his own “food wonderland” called Wonderfood Museum in Penang this month as a way to showcase his work while at the same time, spread meaningful messages hidden in between the plates and bowls of replica food.

Though he is from Taiping and his two design companies, Each Other Studio and Gold Liv Sdn Bhd, are based in Kuala Lumpur, Lau chose to open the museum in Penang because of the growing trend for cute, fun and interactive museums in the northern state.


The museum, which showcases an array of realistic-looking local Malaysian fare, is located on busy Beach Street within the Unesco Heritage Zone and from the first week of its opening, the place is crowded with visitors every day.

Here Lau talks about food replica-making, his passion for food and the rationale behind his museum.

In his own words:


I own two companies, one is specialising in sculpturing and replica food while the other  specialises in special effects like gold leaf effect or silver effect that we normally use for restaurants, hotels and temples. All these are handmade and involve professional skills, not machinery... we don’t learn from other countries. We learn this from trial and error from other projects so we know which material is suitable for what effect… even Japanese look at our work and are amazed by our workmanship.

My wife Cheryl is the art director for replica food. The reason why we set up this museum is because we have the skill and I’m in advertising line. I’m an artist, I do painting and creative work a lot. Normally, when we do this kind of thing, we have to fulfil some business purpose, must do this or that. Now, I’m really doing this according to my imagination of food.

Why Penang… because last year, Penang’s assam laksa was in top 10 in the world. So, I’m thinking why don’t we promote our own food instead of promoting something else. Even food, we have a lot of variety… something unique. This is something that belongs purely to us.

And for me, food is art. So, now, I change the way we look at food by bringing the food from the table to the wall so that people look at food differently. So people will realise how nice our food is, how beautiful it is.

Design is a way for us to solve problems for clients. They give us a project, we find a solution for them. So, there are no mistakes in our line. Every mistake we make is the trial and error that help us improve our work. This is how we managed to produce such realistic replicas. We started doing this (making replica food) accidentally. This idea started about five years ago, we had a project to make nasi lemak replica. Then slowly more people asked us to make food replicas for them. They wanted replicas mostly to cut costs as this means they don’t have to cook real food to place as display and they don’t have to waste food every day.

We have around 15 to 20 artists in our team doing this. We use different types of materials to make these replicas. We supply 95 per cent of the replica food to restaurants and hotels in Malaysia, we also supply to international clients like Australia and India.

Mostly Malaysian food and also Penang food are displayed here. I am also doing something more creative. Just like the one on food going bad, imagine food going bad, so we have to accept that nothing is eternal... so let’s live in the present, so we have to appreciate what we have.

I turn food into art in my museum. Instead of presenting it as mere food, I made it large, giant sized so it looks like art, like a sculpture. Then I can make it small, not the food small but the people are small in a forest of broccoli and cauliflowers. So, I changed the way we look at life. When we are at home, we keep thinking about ourselves, everything is me, me, me. So here, I try to change that perspective with food. For children, this will spur their creativity and become more imaginative. Like the broccoli forest, it became a wonderland that they can imagine playing in. It has become something more than food.

For locals, they may think these are just street food but by enlarging these street food to giant sizes, they will realise things like, wow, our assam laksa is actually so beautiful or our char koay teow is so beautiful. It starts to change how people look at things.

We chose to open our first museum here instead of KL because museums in KL are something serious... it’s not fun at all, only informative. Here, there are over 20 different types of museums in Penang and it has become a fun trend here. People tend to come to the museums here and visit one after another. It took us three to five years to plan out this museum from the concept to production.