February 15, 2013

Ice bars become cool way to enjoy Maine winters

Mainers enjoy socializing out in the cold while sipping martinis. Fundraisers realize this and ice sculptors are carving a niche.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Vodka is poured into a funnel in an ice block during the Ice Bar at the Portland Harbor Hotel in Portland on Saturday, January 26, 2013. Ice bars have become hip, high-profile events across Maine.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Ice sculptor Jesse Bouchard uses an electric chainsaw to cut out a detail area on a block of ice at his South Portland home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. The blocks will be constructed into an ice bar at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport on Friday night.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Rand began carving as a teenager, while working as a dishwasher at the Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake. A chef at the lodge turned him on to ice carving.

Rand filled a 5-gallon bucket with water and put it in a chest freezer. He then hacked away at it with a screwdriver and a chef's knife, and fashioned a rough-looking fish.

It wasn't a marvel, but it was a start.

He took culinary art classes at Lake Region High School in Naples, and apprenticed with chef carvers up and down the East Coast.

At each Winter Olympics, carvers compete in the Olympic Ice Art World Championship. Rand and teammate Aaric Kendall took top honors at the 2010 championship in Vancouver, besting 24 international carvers.

Rand is also the reigning 2012 National Ice Carvers Association champion, which qualifies him to represent the United States at the 2014 Cultural Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"I guess you could say that I never really expected that I could make a career in ice-carving," Rand said by phone from sunny Florida. "I knew it was an option, because I knew of other ice-carving businesses pretty early on. But I don't think I really expected it."

Rand travels all over the world. He used to work mostly at corporate and other high-dollar events. But lately, more and more people are hiring ice carvers to make ice bars for private parties.

It can cost as little as a few hundred dollars to hire someone to create a basic ice sculpture for a backyard party, he said. Companies routinely spend many thousands of dollars for elaborate carvings that include logos and high-tech lighting.

Either way, Rand understands why people are intrigued. It's the same reason he filled the 5-gallon bucket all those years ago.

"Everybody always wants to touch the ice. It's one of those weird things about it," he said. "People have to touch it, and everybody ends up talking about it. If there's a cool ice carving at an event, most likely people are going to talk about the ice carving rather than if the silverware was nice."


Geoffrey Boardman, a culinary arts instructor at SMCC in South Portland, said ice carving has been done for hundreds of years, originating in Japan as a way to decorate food displays.

In North America, ice bars have been popular for 20 years or more. It has been about a decade since they began catching on in Maine.

SMCC has taught ice carving for many years, said chef and culinary arts instructor Moira Rascati. She studied ice carving at the Culinary Institute of America, and shares her skills and knowledge with her students. Chefs with ice-carving skills are more attractive to prospective employers, she said.

Bouchard learned to carve at SMCC as an 18-year-old. He was interested in sculpture when he was younger, and found himself naturally drawn to ice.

He very much sees himself as an artist. He just happens to work in a medium with a short shelf life. An ice bar is a temporary installation, designed with form and function in mind, he said.

Carvers like Bouchard use a variety of hand and power tools, including an electric chain saw, a saw mill, routers, angle grinders, chisels, hand-held irons and even a propane torch.

Many manufacturers have adapted their tools to accommodate ice carvers, Bouchard said, and many specialty tools and bits designed for ice carvers are available online.

The biggest challenge for the Freeport ice bar is the weather. Friday's forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s. Bouchard carved the pieces for the bar this week, working under a shade tent during the day and at night when temperatures cooled. He stored the pieces in a freezer in a large shed in his backyard.

He will delay setting up the bar until late in the afternoon.

"If it were 10 degrees cooler, I would not have to insulate each piece and I would not have to set up so much later in the day," he said. "I'll have to do everything at the last minute because of the temperatures, and that can cause breakage."

But one skill of a good carver is adaptability, he said. "In this business, you have to be able to deal with anything that comes up. The conditions are beyond our control."

The hardest part of his job?

Muscling 300-pound blocks of ice around. Come showtime, he has to work quickly, which isn't easy with heavy, slippery blocks of ice.

"It's definitely a workout," Bouchard said. "I usually get friends to help on delivery day. They know they're getting a workout."


Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


Twitter: pphbkeyes


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Ice sculptor Jesse Bouchard uses a chisel to chip a detail in a block of ice at his South Portland home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. The blocks will be constructed into an ice bar at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport on Friday night.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Ice sculptor Jesse Bouchard reaches for a piece of foam to put behind a block of ice on a handtruck that he will wheel back into his freezer at his South Portland home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. The ice blocks will be made into an ice bar for the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport on Friday night.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer


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