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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Get to Know Chef Charles Jones of The Ice Man

A look inside Chef Jones' Hudson Falls–based custom ice sculpture studio.

Until you meet Chef Charles Jones, owner of The Ice Man, a Hudson Falls-based custom ice sculpture studio, it’s difficult to understand how one can be passionate about frozen water. But once you spend time with him, you can’t help but feel it, too.

“Sculpting ice is taking the most basic ingredient there is—water—and taking it to the highest art form,” Jones said. “What chef wouldn’t aspire to this? I’ve been blessed to find this niche.”

The fact of the matter is that ice is, well, hot. Jones creates an average of four to six ice displays each week, in addition to attending and creating pieces for nearly 20 wedding shows and competitions each year.

A Long Island native, Jones is also a CIA-certified chef and culinary educator at a local vocational school. His impressive resume includes stints as executive chef for the Marriott Corporation and Reader’s Digest. And although you could place Jones in any commercial kitchen in America and be certain that he could take the heat, these days he seems most comfortable in his walk-in freezer studio, where he creates ice displays that are truly works of art.

Jones has been perfecting his craft for more than 30 years; it was 17 years ago when he opened his studio and officially became The Ice Man. Amy, his wife and business partner, is a Hudson Falls native and former commercial artist. She is the company’s creative director and designs the templates for each and every sculpture. Together, they have grown the business from small local projects to large-scale regional ice displays for caterers, event staff, brides and grooms at some of the region’s most prestigious event venues.

In this business, Jones said, partnership is key—not only within the company, but with the more than 65 clients they serve. “Ours is a true partnership,” Jones said. “I’m the logistics guy. Amy is the creative one behind the scenes. But we’re also partners with our clients, we’re part of the operation. We work in unison with the wedding coordinators and florists and banquet directors and brides.”

Susan Baker, vice president of sales and marketing for Mazzone Hospitality, agrees. “When Charlie is here, he’s our partner,” she said. “His work creates a buzz at our parties and enhances the whole experience for our guests.”

The Ice Man categorizes his custom ice sculptures as “wow,” “functional” and “fun.”

Wow sculptures are typically three-dimensional centerpieces that surpass the basic swans and hearts of yesteryear (although he still gets many requests for both). From military insignia and Cinderella’s coach to monograms and corporate and team logos, the Jones’s have elicited their fair share of wows from event attendees.

Functional sculptures have ranged from wine chillers, vases and serving trays to tapas ice tables and functional, working bars. In fact, a hotel once hired Jones to sculpt a 2,000-pound, 18-foot-long cruise ship that held 400 glasses of champagne. He also sculpted identical, individual iceberg sorbet dishes for a Titanic-themed dinner.

The “fun” sculptures are his most popular; in this category is a martini luge. Never heard of one? Think of it as an intricately carved, icy dispenser for adult beverages. Jones also specializes in nitro bars (also known as molecular mixology)—bars serving signature drinks frozen with liquid nitrogen by a certified mixologist and enhanced with special lighting and other effects. “I love it when our ice is interactive,” Jones said. “I encourage people to touch it, to be part of the experience.”

Baker said Jones has created close to 100 ice sculptures and displays for their five venues, which include some heavy hitters in the gala and wedding circuit—the Hall of Springs, Glen Sanders Mansion and Saratoga National Golf Course.

“We’ve worked with Charlie for many years, and at first, it was just a basic need for ice carvings—ice to hold shrimp or maybe initials or hearts,” Baker said. “But Charlie is always looking to push himself. He has taken ice to a whole different level.”

Creative license is important to Jones, and the key to creating stunning sculptures that exceed their clients’ expectations is knowing what questions to ask. While he wields the implements that coax designs from ice, his wife coaxes information from clients to ensure that their sculptures far exceed expectations. “We like getting a general idea and then being allowed to create freely from that idea,” Amy said.

People often order an ice display to commemorate special occasions, such as weddings, bat/bar mitzvahs and holiday parties. Others order custom ice sculptures to commemorate loved ones, pets and, in one case, a motorcycle. They’ve also had brides and grooms request ice sculptures in their own likenesses.

The Ice Man Carveth
How does one transform a block of ice into art? Very carefully.

Jones begins with ice blocks purchased locally and from Canada. Each ice block weighs in at 300 pounds, is 40 inches tall, 20 inches wide and 10 inches deep. For larger sculptures (one of Jones’s swan sculptures had a 36-inch wing span and stood 35 inches high), ice blocks must be fused together.

The average sculpture takes a week to design and two to four hours to sculpt, although some take as many as seven hours. Jones said the ice sculptures typically last six to eight hours.
“Ice sculpting is more than taking a chisel and whacking at ice,” he said, and a tour of his workspace certainly proves that.  When you first enter his workshop, you’re greeted by floor to ceiling shelves holding bins marked “hoses,” “LED,” “hats” and “gloves.” Among the bins are extension cords, recipe books, patterns, templates and a CO2 canister for making dry ice. The space also includes two walk-in freezers—one for storing completed sculptures and one where the actual work happens.

One step into the specially-designed carving studio/freezer, and you’ve entered a different, much colder world. The floor is covered in snow—a byproduct of carving ice. “My son was the only kid in the state who could have a snowball fight in July,” Jones said.

A Sunbeam thermometer on one wall registers zero degrees Fahrenheit. His tools of the trade include a large carving table, chainsaws, chisels, a drill press and a lathe. Jones limits himself and his apprentice to two hours at a time in the carving studio. “Even The Ice man gets cold after two hours of working in a freezer.”

When Jones finishes a piece, he wraps it in blankets, sleeping bags and other protective layers to prepare it for transport. His delivery truck, like his studio, is kept at a comfy zero degrees Fahrenheit.

“The day a piece is delivered is the first time it’s been outside of a freezer, so the ice doesn’t begin melting until it hits the display table,” said Jones, who has made deliveries as far west as Syracuse and as far south as Poughkeepsie.

Their busy season is generally May through October, although as winter weddings become more popular, winter orders are increasing. Those interested in an Ice Man sculpture should plan to book at least six months out.

And although Jones has this art form down to a science, there is one thing he struggles with after delivering each sculpture. “Walking away. The hardest part is walking away. But our next sculpture is always our best sculpture.”

Prices start at $500 for a typical wedding. For more information about The Ice Man custom ice sculptures and pricing, visit them on Facebook or call the studio at 747.5221.

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