Culinary artists carve out careers, prepare for Ice Fest 2014


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.

UA alumna Cinneaia Johnson saws into a block of ice at last year’s Ice Fest.

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, a three-hour festival in which ice and vegetables are transformed into a gallery of frozen and fresh art in and outside the Student Union.

This year's Ice Fest, which will take place Wednesday, Jan. 15, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., will feature, in addition to its usual attractions, 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 will race to the music of chisels and chainsaws in the speed carving contest at 11:45 a.m.

Here is one of the culinary art pieces from last year’s Ice Fest.

The winner will match 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.

Meanwhile, undergraduate and alumni carvers, including Caleb Landis, Allison Smith, Cinneaia Johnson and Dan Johnson (unrelated) — veritable sorcerers of ice — will conjure creatures from their icy prisons, raising a horde of sparkling beasts.

Costic and Greg Butauski, fellow NICA-certified master carver and president and founder of the World Food Sculpting Association, will judge the creations — examining each shimmering scale and dripping fin — and award the best sculptor $300.

When the roar of chainsaws has ceased, guests can survey the glittering kingdom from the royal seat of a 2,000-pound ice throne, or have their picture taken next to the 3,000-pound wall of ice, or any of the other sculptures.

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

New this year, undergraduate Jennifer Herrick will lead a demonstration on salt dough sculpting and invite attendees to craft their own simple salt dough flower to take home. 

 Story by Nicholas Nussen

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