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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Culinary Students Swap Spatulas for Chain Saws

  • Students in CUL 210, Gardemanger, learn ice carving techniques from instructor Paul McPherson.
  • Practice sculptures executed by Culinary Arts students prior to January’s Plymouth Ice Spectacular competition.

Don’t be alarmed if you see people on WCC’s campus wielding chain saws and flamethrowers. They’re just Advanced Culinary students.

The chain saws and “flamethrowers”—the students’ name for roofing torches—are key tools for carving ice sculptures. And WCC students are very proficient in using them.

In late January, WCC students won four awards in the college division at the Plymouth Ice Spectacular. The winners included:

  • Aren Stobby and Adam Langmeyer: bronze medal.
  • Nicolaus Machcinski and Jacob Graf: fifth place.
  • Matthew Morrison: seventh place.
  • Sharon Rajaee: honorable mention.

The teams had four hours to complete a sculpture that included three 330-pound blocks of ice. The individual students carved a single block in the same time.

The students start by researching what they plan to create—a fish, a swan, a pagoda—in books and on the Internet, said Chef Ramon Herrera, who teaches Advanced Culinary and coaches the WCC team. Next, they create paper templates that they attach to the ice with a quick touch of a household iron. Then they tackle the ice with chain saws, grinders, hand chisels, and other tools. They finish by firing up the flamethrower, which they use to burn off bits of paper and, if the temperature is right, refreeze the ice surface so it looks like glass.

“The students really like that part for some reason,” Herrera said.

After they graduate, students can use their ice carving skills—whether as a freelancer or on a culinary staff—for celebrations like weddings, Herrera said. “There’s definitely a market to not only do ice carving, but also to train others,” he said.

But the skills learned go well beyond how to carve ice, Herrera said. For example, students learn how to be prepared for any situation because outdoor conditions for ice carving are extreme. This training helps in areas such as catering. “Your conditions are never suitable (in catering),” he said. “It’s Murphy’s Law all the time.” The competitions also require patience, fortitude, and other qualities that directly transfer to working in culinary arts, he said.

Next up for the Advanced Culinary students is the Skills USA competition in Lansing in late April. Students will compete in three areas: preparing a complete meal, front-of-the-house duties like explaining different cuisines to customers, and job skills contests where they must demonstrate and explain a task such as the correct way to serve tea or butcher a beef tenderloin.

The competitions are valuable learning experiences whether or not students win awards, Herrera said. “I just want them to do the best they can.”

Watch WCC’s School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management video to learn more.

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