Bringing Ice to Life
By AMY HUNTER | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | November 17, 2008*** This story was published on November 11, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
BRISTOL, VA ? Jeff Pennypacker ? donning coveralls, safety glasses and serious ear protection ? looked ready to yell "timber!" Monday as he revved his chain saw in downtown Bristol.
"It's basically like any other art form — painting or sculpting," he said, standing before a 3.5-foot-tall block of ice that sat on a dolly in front of the Southeast Culinary School on Piedmont Avenue. "Except I'm using a chisel instead of a pencil and a chain saw instead of a knife."
Around 5 p.m., just as the temperature dropped, about a half-dozen soon-to-be chefs gathered on the front steps of the old Post Office for a demonstration by Pennypacker on the art and technique of ice sculpting. All appropriately dressed in their standard white chef shirts, the students sat transfixed for a lesson that also lured others from inside out into the cold.
"My goal is not to make ice sculpting look complicated. It's to show you how simple it can be," he said.
Pennypacker has run an ice sculpture business for seven years in Asheville, N.C. Called Masterpiece Ice Sculptures Inc., it was a dream that grew out of his time working various chef positions at the Biltmore, whose executive chef took Pennypacker under his tutelage and taught him the most fleeting of art forms.
"After I tried the first time, I had to sculpt the eagle for every Sunday brunch," he said. "Each time I did it, I would take it to [his executive chef] and he'd say, 'do it again.' "
Pennypacker explained that through dedication, hard work and patience he eventually mastered the skill on which he now makes his living.
Monday night's lesson stretched on for several hours, but eventually Pennypacker's Thanksgiving table masterpiece was complete ? a shimmering, glistening turkey as smooth and clear as glass.
"It's about the process, not the piece," he said.