By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Ice is the media on which Jeff Kaiser creates his art.
The Masury man is an ice sculptor whose work routinely graces banquets and wedding receptions throughout the region. But he also competes on a national level with other ice carvers across the country.
Kaiser will demonstrate his skill tonight at Kulig, a winter celebration at Mill Creek MetroParks’ Fellows Riverside Gardens, sponsored by Polish-Youngstown and the park.
“I will do a three-hour demonstration [at Kulig],” said Kaiser. “I’ll probably make a snowflake, 6 or 7 feet high with the center cut out, so you can stick your face in it and get your picture taken.”
Kaiser’s interest in ice sculpting began 20 years ago, an offshoot of his career as a chef.
The West Middlesex, Pa., native graduated from Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh in 1990 and immediately began working in restaurants.
He started carving while working as a chef at The Hyatt in Pittsburgh, and took classes in the art form. He also worked for Mastro Ice, an ice-sculpting company in the Steel City, for 15 years.
In 1993, he completed an apprenticeship at the Greenbrier Hotel and Resort in West Virginia, where he further honed his sculpting skills. He took his first job as an executive chef later that same year at Tara — A Country Inn, near Hermitage, Pa.
In 1995, Kaiser got serious about his ice sculpting and started his company, Sub-Zero Frozen Sculptures, in Masury. He turned professional in 1996 and already has amassed about 20 awards from competitions nationwide.
During an ice-sculpting show in New Jersey in 1998, Kaiser met the chef of the Taj Mahal casino-hotel in Atlantic City, who offered him the sous chef position. He worked at the Taj and other casino kitchens in the seaside gambling town until 2002, when he moved back to the Shenango Valley.
In 2004, Kaiser and his wife, Precious, opened his other business, Cake, Cookies and Ice, which mixes the couple’s talents for baking and ice sculpting. “We’ve worked with every country club and catering hall in this area,” he said.
The 1998 graduate of West Middlesex High School said he was always good at art and nurtured his sculpting ability over the years.
He now is bringing along his own ice-carving apprentice, Anthony Palumbo of Boardman.
During the ice-sculpting season, which runs from January to mid-March, Kaiser travels most weekends to shows and competitions sanctioned by the National Ice Carving Association, a trade group for which he is running for a board of directors seat. He just returned from one such competition last weekend at The Greenbrier.
For his creations, Kaiser starts with 660-pound blocks of flawless ice from Glacier Block Ice of Middlefield. He then splits the 21-inch-by-21-inch-by 44-inch blocks in half and then reassembles them in the necessary size and shape.
“I stack the split blocks and put heated aluminum sheets against them to make perfectly smooth surfaces,” he said. “The seam almost completely disappears.”
Kaiser’s goal is to lure a NICA-sanctioned regional competition to Youngstown. He already has preliminary plans to stage such an event in the Southern Park Mall parking lot in 2012.
After the Kulig celebration in Mill Creek, he plans to head up to Michigan for an ice-sculpting event this weekend that will be filmed by the Food Network