PARKERSBURG - During his 10 years in the U.S. Army, Jordan Ball often used a chainsaw to clear debris in training exercises and missions.
Using one to carve a fish out of a 300-pound block of ice, though? That was new.
"It feels a lot smoother," Ball, a second-year culinary arts student at West Virginia University at Parkersburg's Downtown Center, said Monday of the difference between cutting wood and carving ice.
Monday was actually the first day of spring break for Ball and three of his classmates, but the chance to learn about carving ice sculptures for creative buffet displays was too intriguing to pass up. Weather delays and cancellations prevented the class from trying out this culinary art involving power tools until this week.
"I'm trying to soak in everything I can," Ball said.
Christian Kefauver, an associate professor of culinary arts at West Virginia Northern Community College, served as the guest instructor. He kicked off the session in the Downtown Center's basement Monday morning by fashioning a fish from a three-and-one-third-foot-tall ice block in about 20 minutes. First, he carved the pattern into the ice using a paper drawing and a die grinder, then cut off large chunks of ice with a chainsaw before using a rasp to add details to one side.
West Virginia University at Parkersburg culinary arts student Carol Lee Roberts cuts into a block of ice with a chainsaw Monday during a session on ice-carving in the basement of WVU-P’s Downtown Center. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
"He, of course, obviously made it look so easy," said first-year student Carol Lee Roberts. "To see his end result, from a block of ice, is really exciting."
Not one of the tools Kefauver used was a new invention. His chainsaw was essentially the same as what people use to cut tree branches in their backyard.
"The majority of them are adapted from woodworking, auto mechanics, sheet metal," he said of the tools.
While Ball was familiar with power tools, Monday marked the first time second-semester student Jade Kalinofski handled a chainsaw.
"How's that feel?" Kefauver asked as she fired up the saw.
"Scary," Kalinofski replied with a nervous laugh.
With Kefauver's guidance and a little help, Kalinofski set about carving a starfish out of her ice block. Despite her initial nervousness, she said she enjoyed the experience.
"Definitely got my adrenaline going," she said.
While students could move the saws for straight-line cuts, Kefauver told them to use "plunge cuts" - in which the blade goes straight into the ice and back out - to make curves that could later be rounded out. He also cautioned them against cutting too much from their sculpture.
"The more ice you take off, the more you're going to mess with structural integrity," he said, noting some sculptures might need to stand out for several hours as part of a display.
The ice-carving lesson was part of the students' garde manger class, which focuses on the "cold kitchen" arts like salads, cold soups, appetizers and displays.
"We want the students to be exposed to it," said Gene Evans, director of culinary arts for WVU-P. "You never know if one of these students might end up being the next ice carver here in Parkersburg."
Evans said if there's enough interest he would like to offer students more opportunities to practice ice-carving. But it cost $600 to bring in the blocks of ice used Monday, so he's looking for a way to make it more cost-effective.
"I'm going to make a pitch for a machine where we can actually make our own (ice blocks) here," Evans said. "It's just hard to justify spending $500 for water. Because I spend that much, at least, a week on food."