Culinary artists carve out careers, demonstrate skills at Ice Fest 2014


This time-lapse video by Steve Allen gives you 20 minutes of carving in just 30 seconds!

Out of a block of ice, one can sculpt a fish or kangaroo or, even more impressive, a career.

Ice carvers from The University of Akron's Hospitality Club have carved out a gainful niche in the fields of culinary arts and hospitality management. Three alumni, including Olympic gold medal winner Aaron Costic, have even started their own companies.

Caleb Landis, president of UA's Culinary Artists Club, took top honors for his carving of a peacock. Photos by Jeff Harwell

UA Professor of Hospitality Management Jamal Feerasta says that culinary students with ice and food carving experience often discover that their specialty tips the employment scale in their favor.

"In a $40 billion hospitality and tourism industry statewide and $1.4 trillion nationally, professionals who offer a specialized skill, such as ice and vegetable carving, absolutely have an advantage," Feerasta says.

Under the watchful guidance of their mentor, Richard Alford, associate professor emeritus of hospitality management, UA ice carvers have garnered numerous accolades, including four collegiate team championships and the National Ice Carving Association (NICA) President's Award.

The team has competed and held demonstrations in countries ranging from China and Japan to Poland, Russia and Jamaica. To their local fans, their most anticipated demonstration is UA's annual Ice Fest. This year's three-hour festival, held Jan. 15, featured ice and vegetables transformed into a gallery of frozen and fresh art in and outside the Student Union.

Many UA students had fun posing with the finished sculptures.

This year's event also featured a new, two-round format for its speed carving competition; a 3,000-pound, 10-block, 8-by-8-foot wall of ice topped with Zippy the kangaroo; and salt dough for guests to mold into their own sculptures.

Alumni Shawn Eckhart, Erik Freay and George Niemoeller raced to the music of chisels and chainsaws in the speed carving contest. The winner then matched blades against Alford, an NICA Hall of Fame inductee, and Costic, owner of Elegant Ice Creations and one of the NICA's five certified master carvers.

But when the last chips had hit the ground, the teacher proved he is still the master. Niemoeller took the first speed-carving round, but when he and Costic competed against Alford in the final speed carving round, it was Alford's squirrel sculpture that won the day.

Meanwhile, undergraduate and alumni carvers proved to be veritable sorcerers of ice as they conjured creatures from their icy prisons, raising a horde of sparkling beasts. Judging the creations were Costic and Greg Butauski, fellow NICA-certified master carver and president and founder of the World Food Sculpting Association.

Tori Cunningham, left, won second place for her very original "Bad Hair Day" sculpture. At right is Lisa Thompson.

The winner was Caleb Landis, president of UA's Culinary Artists Club, for his carving of a peacock. Student Tori Cunningham took second place with her "Bad Hair Day" sculpture, and alumnus Dan Johnson claimed third place with his ice rendition of a waterfall. They earned $300, $200 and $100 tool gift certificates, respectively.

When the roar of chainsaws ceased, guests surveyed the glittering kingdom from the royal seat of a 2,000-pound ice throne, and had their pictures taken next to the 3,000-pound wall of ice, or any of the other sculptures.

Inside the Student Union, Alford and Butauksi carved melons, carrots, turnips, beets, radishes, onions, apples and more into dishes of art.

New this year, undergraduate Jennifer Herrick led a demonstration on salt dough sculpting and attendees crafted their own simple salt dough flower to take home. 

See also: Local Ice Carving Students Learn With a Chisel and Chainsaw.

West Side Leader: Cool talents on display at UA Ice Festival

Ice Fest 2014 Facebook photo album

 Story by Nicholas Nussen

Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or