By Cindy Atoji Keene
Edible Arrangements production manager Iris Matos prefers to call herself a “fruit artist.” She doesn’t actually get to create any designs – those are pre-determined by the company – but she still prides herself on beautifully arranged bouquets and arrangements of sculpted fresh fruit. “Fruit is so delicious and healthy, and making the fruit into lovely creations that people can enjoy is a lot of fun,” said Matos, who works at the Methuen franchise of Edible Arrangements, a Wallingford, Conn.,-based company which has over 1,000 stores worldwide.
Fruit has always been important to Matos, 40, who is of Puerto Rican descent; she grew up visiting the island, grabbing mangos from the trees in the backyard and eating kiwis fresh from produce stands So when her children grew older and she began looking for a job, she loved the idea of taking fresh strawberries, pineapple, grapes, oranges, cantaloupes and honeydews and making them into centerpieces or gifts. Matos creates anywhere from 30 to 200 fruit arrangements a day, including bananas dipped in white and semisweet chocolate, to pineapples shaped like a daisies. “I’m an artist by nature, and I make sure that every piece of fruit is styled to perfection,” said Matos.
Q: What is the process of turning fruit into a decorative piece of food?
A: All of our arrangements have to conform to a certain “look,” but it still takes a careful eye to put together a design. The fruit needs to be cut to a certain size and shape; skewered carefully; and balanced in the final basket or container so that there are no empty spaces. I make sure the fruit isn’t bruised, soft or moldy. It takes practice to get it right.
Q: What’s your favorite design?
A: I personally love the long-stemmed chocolate covered strawberries that are hand-dipped in white and semisweet chocolate. They look just like roses and a very stunning. Strawberries are my favorite fruit to work with because you can do so many things with them, including rolling them in coconut, mini-chocolate chips, or chopped almonds.
Q: How do you ensure that the fruit is fresh?
A: Fresh fruit is delivered daily, and then the boxes are put in a big walk-in cooler. We have seven different sinks, including sinks that are dedicated to cleaning the fruit only. The bananas, strawberries, or apples are washed and dried, then put on trays.
Q: Is it difficult to cut the fruit into uniform pieces?
A: Different knives are used for different fruit, depending on the builder’s preferences. I have five different types of knives, from straight to paring knives but I prefer the straight knives. Our knives were recently sharpened, and I was so excited that I happened to knick myself, but it’s wonderful to have a great tool again. A sharp knife is so essential.
Q: How do you get the different shapes out of the fruit?
A: I have a pineapple cutter that will stamp out the shapes, whether it’s a star, heart, or Mickey Mouse. Other fruit are hand-cut, although kiwis in particular are hard to peel and cut.
Q: Were you affected by last year’s cantaloupe recall, when there was an outbreak of dangerous bacteria on melons?
A: We checked with our fruit vendor and the melons we were using were safe, so we continued to use them. But initially it was a concern, of course.
Q: Is it OK to take a nibble of a piece of fruit while you’re working?
A: Absolutely! I actually try to taste everything daily to make sure it’s fresh. If I can’t eat it, then the customer won’t eat it. So I’m always eating fruit, except when I go home. I can only take so much fruit.