If you have ever attended a wedding or gala at the Bayfront Convention Center, chances are good that you were impressed with the décor and ambience of the occasion. Lighting, centerpieces and linens are designed to be visually pleasing and nearly always deliver on that expectation. However, the Bayfront Convention Center is often able to add an elegant touch to a special occasion thanks to the skill of Executive Chef David Robbinson, and it goes beyond just the food.
In addition to his culinary skills, Chef David is also an accomplished ice sculptor and he carves custom ice sculptures for many Convention Center events every year. Each handmade piece is the end result of a several day process that begins with simple tap water.
Approximately 88 gallons of water fill a specialized freezer equipped with pumps which circulate the water as it freezes. The constant movement prevents air bubbles from forming and allows the ice to freeze with crystal-like clarity. The freezing process takes up to three days and produces two blocks of ice, each weighing 350 pounds.
Before a block can be carved, it must be tempered so the carving tools and ambient heat do not shatter the ice. When it reaches a workable consistency, Chef David goes to work with a chainsaw customized for ice-carving. Years of practice and artistic instinct help him quickly bring the piece to life. While it may seem unwieldy, Chef David is able to carve many sculptures from start to finish almost entirely with his chainsaw, including details as intricate as bird feathers. Other pieces, such as those with sharp relief or lettering, require the use of ice chisels or a die grinder.
A particular point of pride for Chef David is that each of his pieces is completed by hand. Larger volume ice-carvers may use computer controlled cutting machines similar to the CNC cutters found in many tool and die shops. He says these machines are capable of reproducing very fine details, but he feels that computer controlled work lacks some of the individuality that only hand-tooling can offer.
Throughout his career, Chef David has carved a wide variety of pieces ranging from smaller sculptures he can complete in about an hour to a full-scale garden gazebo which took the better part of three days. He says that the goal is for any particular piece to be at its aesthetic peak at about the midway point of the event at which it is displayed. The creation of each sculpture, therefore, takes into account up to three hours of melting designed to maximize visual appeal.
The next time you see an ice sculpture at a Bayfront Convention Center event, take a moment to reflect on the process of its creation. Remember that every detail down to the clarity of the ice has been meticulously planned and executed by a skilled craftsman. Under Chef David’s hand, a tank full of tap water is transformed into a beautiful and dynamic piece of art.