Executive Chef Rhys Lewis has talents that extend well beyond the kitchen. He’s the resident ice sculptor for Colonial Williamsburg. You may have seen his works of art (and they truly are just that) inside the Williamsburg Inn and Williamsburg Lodge during various holidays. We talked to the chef about how he learned his cool party trick and also got to see him in action. Watch him transform a massive chunk of frozen water into a beautiful, intricate member of Santa’s team. Then, help us name it!
Chef Rhys says he became inspired to learn how to carve ice when he was working at a lodge in Germany. The Emperor of Japan was visiting for a summit and a member of his entourage was tasked with creating an ice sculpture. Rhys was in awe of the man’s skill and decided it was one he wanted to master himself. And judging by his portfolio of work, I’d say he did just that. He showed us everything from an Easter basket he carved to a piano to massive coffee cups holding chilled cappuccinos. He even created a replica of the Eiffel Tower that was 10 feet long and 20 feet high. It weighed a whopping 3,000 pounds!
As for his most memorable sculpture, he told us it was before he joined the Colonial Williamsburg chefs. He was charged with creating a giant McDonald’s box of french fries. Not only did he create the container and the logo, he hand carved each massive fry! Unfortunately, it was before the digital age and he didn’t snap a picture so that one lives in his memory.
He’s also very proud of a more recent, massive undertaking here at CW. He and his team created this 16 foot long bar–complete with ice vases and a colored logo. Check out the details in the paneling!
He told us this project took him 10-12 hours just to draw all the pieces. Then, he spent three eight-hour days carving and bringing those patterns to life. In all, there were 19 different parts of the display which was impressive, not jut for its design, but also its size. Any guesses on how much it weighed? It put the “heavy” in heavy lifting, tipping the scales at 4,000 pounds!
Most of his projects start the same: with a giant 300 pound block of ice. It arrives in a box and has to temper. This means letting the ice slowly adjust to room temperature so that it won’t fracture from thermal shock during carving. The day we visited, the process took a little more than an hour.
First step: the outlining. Chef Rhys uses a large cardboard cutout pattern to get everything going.
Once he’s done carving the image on one side, he moves to the other and does the same thing.
Then, the real fun starts! He has a number of different tools–ranging from a chainsaw to a hand chisel. For us, it was fun to see the spray it kicked up. It was like watching it snow!
And finally, the finishing touches. We watched him pay extra attention to the details of the antlers, nose, ears, and feet!
Then… voila! A reindeer!
This reindeer will join three others to help pull Santa’s massive sleigh filled with presents. They will go on display inside Traditions for the Christmas Lunch Buffet. If you live in Williamsburg or will be visiting us on Christmas Eve, stop by the Lodge and watch the Chef carve ice in person. It takes roughly two hours from beginning to end. We stayed the entire time and put together a special slideshow that illustrates the different stages of the process!
We couldn’t think of a name for our reindeer. Does it look like a Dasher? A Prancer? Maybe a Vixen? Tell us what you think we should name him/her in a comment below.