KEEP YOUR COOL
Several hundred years ago, ice sculpting started in France as an attractive way to keep food fresh. Ever since, the melting art form has appeared at many a reception and celebration. These sculptures can be traditional — a swan or a heart, for example — or unusual, such as a "toboggan run," where a shot of alcohol is poured in the top of the sculpture, and becomes chilled as it races its way down an ice tunnel.
At Henry Ford Community College, where there's a popular campus club devoted to the craft, ice sculpting is serious business. Executive chef Richard Teeple teaches the group — open to any HFCC student — the ins and outs of sculpting big ice cubes into decorations for the fanciest banquets.
It's a handy skill to have if you're looking for a sideline. The average ice sculpture, such as an eagle or swan, can cost between $250 and $300, not including the ice, which can cost up to $100 per block (a block weighs 440 pounds and is 5 feet high, 21 inches wide and 9 inches thick).
Ice sculptors work sometimes in a walk-in freezer, or outside if the weather is cold enough. Clad in layers of warm clothing, waterproof gloves and eye protection (shards of ice can be painfully sharp), they begin by tracing a design, usually in sections, on the ice blocks. Several blocks can be interlocked — to do this, carvers first use a saw with jagged teeth to level the blocks. The friction of the saw creates water and slush, which refreezes to fuse the blocks together. Then, they use chainsaws to get a basic shape, and die grinders, sanders and chisels to create details and special effects.
Every inch on the original block of ice is cut, because the ice is like a diamond and becomes more radiant with each cut, explains Darryl Thomas, a music major and vice president of the club.
The finished product — whether it's the popular love- birds-and-heart design, or a creative rendition of Godzilla in ice (which the HFCC students made for last year's Tastefest) — is destined to impress and then disappear. The typical ice sculpture melts away by the time the banquet it has graced is being cleaned up.
For more information, visit their Web site. See the HFCC ice carvers in action this Thursday, Dec. 23, at the Detroit Zoo from 5-8 p.m.— Gretchen Van-Monette
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