Students did a double take Tuesday as they caught a glimpse of an ice portrait of LeBron James outside the University of Akron Student Union.
“I like it. Yesssss, I love LeBron,” said Nick Darash, 22, a UA senior who stopped to take photos.
It took Aaron Costic two hours to carve a silhouette of LeBron’s head that stands nearly 8 feet tall and weighs more than 2,100 pounds.
Basketball was the theme of UA’s Ice Fest 2016, which also paid tribute to the Zips basketball team with a giant ice throne.
Costic won the speed ice-carving contest with his work of UA mascot Zippy. Costic, a 1991 alumnus of UA’s culinary arts program, is also an Olympic ice-sculpting gold medalist (2006).
The ice sculptors had 20 minutes using only two tools (one of them, a chain saw), to complete their carvings in the first round.
It was Olaf, a Disney character from the movie Frozen, versus a fish carving — the fish won.
Then in the second round where the sculptors had only 10 minutes, Zippy beat out the ice carving of a flying dragon. Students in the audience selected the winners.
Six undergrad culinary arts students also captured crowds with their work in progress at Buchtel Commons. Their project was a three-hour competition.
The judges included Costic and chef Richard Alford, UA hospitality management associate professor emeritus and Ice Fest founder.
Dan Johnson of Brecksville took first-place honors with a sculpture of a fish on coral.
Brandon Hartel, 19, of Cuyahoga Falls, came in second for his King of the Ice sculpture with thick eyebrows, a swirly mustache and beard.
Third place went to Alyson Smith, 20, of Akron, for Jackalope, her rendition of a jackrabbit and antelope.
Meanwhile, inside the Student Union, carvers including undergraduates in the culinary arts program used their skills to craft melons, radishes, carrots, cabbage and other fruits and vegetables into intricate, colorful works of art.
“They have to be hard pieces of fruit and vegetables, you can’t carve mush,” said Alford, who helped train all the Ice Fest participants.
Pennsylvania Culinary Institute graduate Steve Baity — the only non-UA-affiliated carver — said he always comes back for the Ice Fest event just to help out Alford, who has mentored Baity since Baity was a student at McKinley High School in Canton.
A chef, Baity’s specialty is graffiti carving. The 35-year-old was a contestant on the Food Network last month in The Cake Wars series. His team won. He said sculpting fruits and vegetables sets him apart from other chefs.
Second-year culinary art student Sara Johnson said she enjoys the intricate carving because it’s relaxing and gives her a chance to use her creative skills as well.
“I also know it’s much harder for a woman to become a chef in the real world, so I want to expand my talents,” she said. “It also looks good on my resume.”
She also uses tallow, which is a fat that has a waxlike feel to it, and is also used to make intricate carvings. She carved a frog, roses and miniature whales.
“The industry needs versatility,” Alford said. “Ice sculpting and fruit and vegetable carving is where you can create something positive. The thing about our industry is the smile, it’s the wow factor.
“It’s more bang for the employer’s buck. Besides, it’s enjoyable and not difficult, and has gotten me all over the world.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.