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Cool down with frozen treats

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Bless Your Spoon

 

If ice carving is a young man’s game, at 58 years old, Chef Al Romano, is still on top of his game and a winner.

Al worked as an executive chef for eight years at Bermuda Run. When he left, he opened up Fire and Ice, a catering and ice sculpture business. Carving ice is hard work, but he was making more money on the ice carvings and wanted to focus on that part of his work.

The chef was working full time as director of dining services at Homestead Hills at the time but still carving two to three ice carvings a week. He ended up keeping his full-time position there but got away from the catering end of the business, choosing to focus on the ice carvings.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1984, Al started working in a place called Bear Mountain Inn, which was north of the city. The head chef was running behind on time and needed a block of ice carved, so he asked Al to carve it.

There were big ice houses in New York at that time, and large frozen blocks would be delivered.

Al had minimal training, saying, “We only had one day of training in school. He handed me his chain saw and tools, and I went crazy on it. He liked it, so I did another one and then another. I got pretty good at it.”

As time went on, customers began asking Al to carve ice for large corporate events.

“If there was a big function, I’d take my chain saw to New York City,” said Al, sharing how his talent developed.

All the big ice houses have gone out of business, so Al makes his own 300-pound blocks of ice in his workshop. By using a Cline Bell machine, two large blocks of crystal clear ice can be made at the same time. That process starts out relatively simple but gets more involved. Liners are put into two deep vats, and 40 gallons of water are poured into each side. The water agitates, and all impurities flow to the top, which gives it a crystal clear appearance.

It takes a total of three to four days for the water to freeze. Then the impure water is drained off the top of the block using a hose. At the end of each piece of ice are two metal plates that are connected to a hoist. When the ice is ready to be removed, the hoist is attached to the ice, and the block’s pulled out much like you pull an engine out of a car. After lifting the ice out of the vat, the block is laid on a rolling cart and transported to the freezer.

Al doesn’t always sell his sculptures as he often sells just the blocks of ice to other chefs.

There’s not much local competition. When Al began working for Bermuda Run Country Club in the ’90s, no one was doing carving. “That’s how I got hired. I was in an ice carving competition at Reynolda Village. They (Bermuda Run) called me in for an interview, and I ended up working there for nine years.”

Only a handful of chefs in local clubs are still carving. Al sells ice blocks to the chefs who want to do their own carving.

There are two types of ice. There is Cline Bell ice and canned ice that’s not as clear, but no one makes the canned ice around here. The difference is Cline Bell ice is clearer so more desirable. At one time, the big blocks of canned ice were the only ice blocks available to carve.

Once Al pulls a block out of the machine, he either carves it right away or stores it in the freezer. The ice base and the main piece of the sculpture are fused together. If he’s selling the ice as a whole block, once it’s made, Al puts it in the larger of two walk-in freezers – one machine is three feet deep and nine feet wide.  The larger freezer holds about 13 blocks, and each block weighs 300 pounds.

While the business doesn’t demand a lot of different equipment, what it does require is expensive. The freezers alone cost about $6,000 a piece. Having ice carved is not cheap either as a 3D ice sculpture starts around $325 or upward depending upon difficulty. Delivery is extra and depends on where it’s going.  If one orders just an uncarved block of ice, the cost is $80.

Above all, ice carving necessitates the eye of an artist combined with the skill of using a chainsaw – and a lot of creativity.

Usually, only chefs go into this type of work. A chef already has somewhat of an eye because, as an artist, a plate is the artist’s canvas – and the food artistically arranged on the plate is the paint.

“A client will give me the idea of what they want if it’s a theme party. They might want a logo or something to display food in.”

As a professional ice carver, this creative chef can do just about anything with ice. Carving fountains for large office and holiday parties, the designs are pretty and colorful with lights underneath. There are many pictures on his website from which to choose.

The block of ice comes out of the freezer at about 20 degrees. The freezers are set between 10 and 20, so it will stay frozen for usually 6-8 hours on the average. For a 300 pound block of ice, by the time Al sculpts it, there is between 150-250 pounds of ice that remains.

It is amazing to witness Al’s talents at work while using his tools – chain saws, die grinders, ice picks, and chisels.

Once carved, he puts it in a box using insulating blankets and bags, kind of like you’d wrap your china and then wheels it out to his truck with a regular hand truck. If he’s traveling a distance, he buys dry ice to pack it, so it lasts for hours. The sculpture usually lasts 4-6 hours for an event.

Al’s been carving for 30 years plus, so he can carve a block of ice quickly. But sometimes things do go wrong.

One of his worst experiences was when he was setting up some block letters of a person’s name. One letter fell over and hit the other letter – and it was a domino effect. All the letters fell on the floor and shattered in thousands of pieces.  He couldn’t do anything but offer to return the client’s money. She was distraught, but trying to right the wrong, Al offered her a free sculpture next time. All’s well that ends well, so she was a happy customer.

In this business, things happen that often are out of one’s control. Sometimes you can take a block out of the freezer on a humid day, and it just explodes. If the temperature change is too fast, the ice will shatter into pieces. One must temper the ice – taking it slowly from cold to warm without creating a drastic temperature change.

Hand-carved ice is becoming a rarity. Hardly any chefs do it anymore. Now machines that cut the ice are often used.  “If there’s anybody who does it around here, I probably taught them. There’s not too many around who will carve,” said Al.

Al works with a company in Charlotte that uses a Computer Numeric Control that’s basically like a program in your computer, like a logo – and the computer will cut it, and he finishes it. Al says he’s not as good or as precise as the machine, but the devices are few and far between. He prefers the old school ice carving method but will do what his clients prefer.

Explaining the artistic nature of ice carving: “There’s old school ice carving like I do, and there’s the machine stuff. The ice carving competitions are all hands and tools.”

For business purposes, Al sometimes uses machines. When a business entity orders a logo, they want it perfect. You have to have the exact font and size.

“Some of my customers are Wake Forest – I do one for the clubhouse at any home, football game. I’m also doing the current WS Open, and I do a lot of stuff for both the fall and spring furniture markets.”

These days, Al’s into competing – and winning. He has a collegiate team, and they compete in the national championships every year. For the last two years, the National Collegiate Ice Carving Championship has been held in Frankenmuth, Mich., and he’s been the coach for the four-student ice carving team. His students are in culinary school at Guilford Tech where Al now works full-time as a culinary instructor.

When it comes to carving ice, Al admitted, “I’m a better teacher now than I am a carver.”

Last year, their team competed against 10 other teams from all over the country – they were the only team from the south.

“We came back this year with three bronze medals for two individual events and one team event. It’s all based on points — gold, silver, and bronze, which is the third of the three medals.”

They have to be full-time students, too.

“It’s big-time – it’s the best of college students. They don’t have to be culinary students. But it just so happened, they all were culinary.”

The competition lasts three days and is held the last weekend in January. Now that’s good ice weather. This year, temps were minus 10 degrees outdoors. Last year it got up to 50 degrees.

“We are entering again next year with a team going up, and I’ll have two returning students and two new ones.”

Al had a guy who helped him for years with the carving, but he passed away. The last few years, he’s been doing it himself. Now he has a man to help, but he’s still learning. There are a limited number of ice carvers in the state – and Al knows of only five.

Al Romano is a man of many talents. I asked him if he’d gone crazy with his chainsaw on a piece of wood.

“It’s on my bucket list to do wood carving, but I haven’t tried it yet.”

For more information, visit www.fireicenc.com.

Beat the heat of August by cooling down with any one of these frozen desserts – ice cream pies and cakes you can easily make with store-bought ice cream. After preparing a meal, you’ll appreciate a no-fuss dessert. Get creative with your flavors by layering the different flavors of ice cream, candy bars, and nuts that taste good to you.

FUDGE DIPPED STRAWBERRY PIE

2 Tbsp. salted butter

2 squares unsweetened chocolate

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 quart softened, strawberry ice cream

1 9-inch baked pie shell

3 egg whites

½ tsp. vanilla extract

¼ tsp. cream of tartar

6 Tbsp. sugar

For fudge sauce, in a saucepan, melt butter and chocolate. Then add sugar and evaporated milk. Cook and stir over low heat until thickened and smooth. Remove from heat, and add vanilla. Cool. In the pie shell, spread half of the ice cream, and cover with half the fudge sauce. Freeze until firm. Spread the remaining half of ice cream, and cover with remaining half of fudge sauce. Freeze until firm. Beat egg whites with vanilla and cream of tartar until frothy. Add sugar gradually and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread on ice cream pie, and seal around all edges. In a 400-degree oven, bake 6-8 minutes until meringue is browned. Return to freezer until ready to serve.

TOFFEE PIE WITH TOFFEE SAUCE

18 vanilla wafers

½ gallon softened, vanilla ice cream

½ cup chopped, Heath Bars

Toffee Sauce

1 ½ cup sugar

1 cup evaporated milk

¼ cup salted butter

¼ cup light corn syrup

Dash of salt

½ cup chopped Heath Bars

Line bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate with vanilla wafers. Spread one half of softened ice cream over cookies. Sprinkle with ½ cup of chopped candy bar. Spoon remainder of ice cream over toffee layer. Freeze. For the sauce, in a saucepan, combine sugar, milk, butter, corn syrup, and salt. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Cool and stir in remaining ½ cup of toffee candy. Serve frozen pie and top with sauce.

PEANUT BUTTER PIE

1 9oz. pkg. chocolate wafer cookies

5 Tbsp. melted butter

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 cup sugar

1 cup crunchy, Peter Pan, peanut butter

1 cup whipping cream

2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Glaze

½ cup whipping cream

10 oz. chopped semisweet chocolate

½ cup chopped roasted peanuts

For the crust, in a processor, grind the cookies until crumbed. Add butter and process until mixed. Press crumbs into bottom and sides of a 9-inch, greased, glass pie plate. Freeze.  For the filling, in a mixer, beat cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Beat in crunchy peanut butter. In another mixer bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla. Fold whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture. Pour into the crust so that top is level and smooth. Freeze 24 hours. For the glaze, in a saucepan, bring whipping cream to a simmer on medium heat. Add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Cool to just warm. Cover pie with chocolate glaze. Sprinkle with peanuts. Freeze. Remove from freezer 20 minutes before cutting with a warm knife.

DECADENT CHOC-OREO MUD PIE

6 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

20 crushed Oreo cookies

1 quart softened, chocolate ice cream

4 Tbsp. brewed coffee

2 Tbsp. brandy

2 Tbsp. coffee liqueur

1 cup heavy whipped cream

12 oz. store-bought fudge sauce

Toasted almonds

In a bowl, crush cookies with butter. Press onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate and freeze.  In a mixer, whip the ice cream with the coffee, brandy, and liqueur. In a mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add 4 Tbsp. of the whipped cream to the ice cream mixture. Pour into the frozen pie crust. Freeze until hard. Spread fudge sauce on top of frozen pie using a knife and hot water. Cover with whipped cream. Garnish with toasted almonds. Freeze until ready to serve. Use a premium ice cream such as Bryers.

QUICK VANILLA PIE WITH BERRY SAUCE

1 9-inch chocolate pie crust

1 quart softened, vanilla ice cream

1/3 cup chocolate syrup

2 Tbsp. chopped, macadamia nuts

Fresh Berry Sauce

12 oz. fresh blackberries

12 oz. fresh blueberries

12 oz. fresh raspberries

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

3 Tbsp. water

Take a crust, and spoon the ice cream while leveling the top. Squeeze lines of chocolate sauce over the pie about 1 inch apart. Take a knife and run it in lines 1-inch apart in the opposite direction through the chocolate lines to create a pattern. Sprinkle with pecans. Freeze.   Remove from freezer 20 minutes before cutting with a warm knife. For the sauce, in a saucepan, bring all berries, sugar, and water to a simmer. Cook 4 minutes while stirring until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and cool. On a dessert plate, spoon and spread sauce on the plate. Center piece of pie in the middle of the sauce. Spoon a bit of sauce on top of pie.

PEPPERMINT- CHOCOLATE CREAM CAKE

½ cup salted butter

8 oz. chopped, semisweet chocolate

14 oz. chocolate wafer cookies

½ cup whipped cream

¼ cup light corn syrup

6 oz. chopped, semisweet chocolate

7 cups softened, vanilla ice cream

10 oz. crushed, peppermint candies

2 tsp. peppermint extract

For the crust, in a saucepan, melt butter and chocolate. In a processor, grind cookies. Ad cookies to chocolate mixture. Blend. Reserve 1 cup of cookie mixture. Press remaining crumbs onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Freeze. For the glaze, in a saucepan, bring cream and corn syrup to a boil. Remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until melted and smooth. Cool. To make the pie, mix softened ice cream with crushed candy and extract until blended. Spoon half the ice cream into crust and spread evenly. Sprinkle 1 cup of remaining cookie crumbs over ice cream. Pour 1 cup cholate glaze over ice cream. Freeze. Top with remaining ice cream. Freeze. Pour remaining glaze over ice cream. Spread evenly and freeze overnight. Loosen cake from pan by running a knife along the side. Garnish cake with chopped peppermints.

FROZEN SOUFFLE AND  HOT STRAWBERRY SAUCE

12 crumbled almond macaroons

5 Tbsp. Grand Marnier

½ gallon softened, vanilla ice cream

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup chopped, toasted almonds

Confectioners sugar

Strawberry Sauce

1 quart halved fresh strawberries

½ cup sugar

5 Tbsp. Grand Marnier

Stir crumbled macaroons and Grand Marnier into softened ice cream. In a mixer, whip cream until thick. Fold cream into ice cream mixture. Spoon into an angel food cake pan. Sprinkle lightly with almonds and confectioners sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight. Unmold onto a cold platter and keep frozen until serving time. For the sauce, in a saucepan, add strawberries and add sugar. Simmer until berries are soft but not mushy. Remove from heat, and stir in Grand Marnier. Serve frozen soufflé, and top with sauce.

CHERRY ICE CREAM CAKE AND FUDGE SAUCE

3 pints softened, cherry ice cream

3 cups finely chopped, almond macaroons

Fudge Sauce

2 Tbsp. softened, salted butter

2/3 cup whipping cream

10 oz. chopped, premium milk chocolate

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the sauce, in a saucepan, add butter and whipping cream and heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add chocolate, and let stand until melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla. Cool.

For the cake, spread bottom of a parchment paper-lined 9 x 5 x 2 loaf pan. Spread 1 pint of ice cream over the bottom. Sprinkle with 1 cup of cookie crumbs. Spread another 1 pint of ice cream over crumbs, and freeze for one hour. Spread ¾ of chocolate sauce over ice cream. Repeat with remaining pint of ice cream and 1 cup of cookie crumbs. Press crumbs into ice cream to stick. Cover and freeze. Warm remaining sauce in a saucepan over low heat. Remove cake from freezer, and turn the cake out onto a plate. Peel off parchment. Sprinkle top of the cake with remaining crumbs. Serve with warm sauce.

CHOCOLATE LUSCIOUS CREAM PIE

½ cup melted butter

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

7 oz. flaked coconut

½ cup chopped pecans.

½ gallon softened chocolate ice cream

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup confectioners sugar

½ cup Amaretto liqueur

Chopped pecans

For the crust, combine butter, flour, coconut, and pecans, and mix well. Press into bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie pan. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 11 minutes or until slightly browned. Cool. For the filling, spoon softened ice cream into pie shell, spreading evenly, and freeze. In a mixer, beat heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar until soft peaks form. Spread over pie and top with chopped pecans.

DULCE DE LECHE FROZEN PIE

1/3 cup ground macadamia nuts

2 Tbsp. sugar

2/3 cup vanilla wafer crumbs

½ tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

2 pints Dulce de Leche or caramel ice cream

½ cup whipped cream

1 Tbsp. powdered sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. chopped pecans

Mocha Sauce

2 Tbsp. instant coffee

2 Tbsp. boiling water

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

1 cup whipping cream

¼ cup light corn syrup

2 oz. chopped unsweet chocolate

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the sauce, in a pot, boil the water, add coffee and dissolve. In a saucepan, melt sugar with cocoa and whisk in cream, and corn syrup. Add the coffee mixture to the cream mixture. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Reduce to simmer and stir for 4 minutes or until slightly thickened. Cool. Stir in vanilla.

For the crust, in a processor, grind pecans with sugar. In a bowl, combine pecans with cookie wafers and cinnamon. Add melted butter and blend. Press crust into bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.

For the filling, spread 1 pint of softened ice cream evenly over crust. Drizzle 4 Tbsp. mocha sauce over ice cream. Freeze. Spread remaining 1 pint of softened ice cream on top of sauce. Freeze. Refrigerate remaining mocha sauce. When ready to serve, rewarm mocha sauce. In a mixer, whip cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks form. Pipe cream around the edge of the pie. Sprinkle top with pecans. Serve pie with sauce.2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

MOCHA MOUSSE FROZEN PIE

4 egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts

½ cup chocolate chips

1 Tbsp. instant coffee

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup light corn syrup

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup whipped cream

For the crust, in a mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add sugar a little at a time while beating and beat until stiff. Fold in nuts. Turn into a butter-greased 9-inch pie pan and cover bottom and sides. Bake in a 275-degree oven for 1 hour. Turn off oven and let sit for 2 hours. Chill before filling. For filling, melt chocolate, coffee, condensed milk and corn syrup making sure to not burn. Stir until chocolate is melted. Stir in vanilla. In a mixer, whip cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in whipped cream. Pour into the pie shell and freeze.