CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — A frigid wind cut across the front of Cape May County Technical School last Friday as students and staff shivered on a mid-20s morning listening to the whine of saws, drills and Dremels.
A perfect day for carving ice.
“The best kind of day to make ice carvings is when the temperature is 29 degrees,” said chef Dave Masterson, culinary arts instructor at the technical school. “If it’s much colder than that, the ice shatters.”
Much warmer, he said, and the ice melts too quickly.
Culinary students clustered around chef Doug Gomersall as he wielded a large Dremel rotary tool to finish the shape of an eagle from a 4-foot, 300-pound block of ice.
Students hugged their shoulders for warmth and for waited their turn to pick up a drill, Dremel or saw and use it on the ice.
Once finished, the student sculptures were stored in the culinary freezer. The sculptures will be used at an upcoming council dinner.
“I’ve been helping the kids out at the school for 20-something years,” said Gomersall, who is a member of the school’s Culinary Arts Advisory Council.
“I enjoy doing it for them – showing them something new, and giving them a chance to see something different in the culinary world,” he said.
Masterson said he invites Gomersall, the owner of the business Living Ice, to the school each year to demonstrate the “art of cold food,” or garde manger.
“Doug donates his time to come and work with the students,” Masterson said. “He takes a day off work to show them how to make ice sculptures.”
Bringing guest chefs to the school gives the kids a chance to get experience that applies beyond the school, Masterson said.
“They hear the terms and expressions. They begin to understand that they’re getting ready for the real world.”
It also gives the students the chance to understand the importance of presentation when it comes to food.
“There’s a lot of art involved with food preparation,” Masterson said. “With the ice display, the students get a chance to practice the art.”
“It’s definitely real-world experience,” said Debbie Valleto, a school spokeswoman. “They’re learning that what they do in school has real-world application.”
That goes beyond creating ice sculptures, Valletto said. Students have to use math skills to graph out designs, and to understand how to scale dimensions to fit a block of ice.
They also have to use and understand the terminology of both the kitchen and of chefs. Then there’s the artistic talent needed to design the carving, an important skill for a would-be chef creating a masterpiece.
It’s not just how food is prepared and how it tastes, Masterson said. “I tell my students, ‘People eat with their eyes.’ When you present food to the guests, you want that ‘wow’ factor.”
That is true for the decorations, centerpieces and other accoutrements that accompany the meal, he said.
Student Donna Bender isn’t certain whether she will pursue a career in food — she said last week that she is leaning toward nursing — yet she volunteered to help Gomersall as he pulled the shape of an eagle out of the block of ice.
Emily Fowler said she plans to be a mixologist and is taking food courses at Cape Tech with that goal in mind.
“The culinary program is the closest I can get to being a mixologist,” she said over the whine of a Dremel. “I can get a ServSafe certificate, proving that I understand alcohol safety.”
Students spent the day in front of the school’s main entrance carving blocks of ice, and it was a way to involve the entire school, Masterson said.
“The other students stop and watch and learn,” Masterson said. “Teachers will bring their classes down to watch for a while.”
It’s hands-on experience for the chef’s students; a chance to show off their skills for an appreciate crowd while applying the knowledge they’ve gained from their classes.