Jesse Bouchard makes his living as a chef, but he’s becoming famous for his ice carving.
Bouchard, who lives in South Portland and cooks full-time at Piper Shores in Scarborough, will star at center stage Friday, creating a bar and martini luge from several 300-pound blocks of ice for the annual Flavors of Freeport winter party at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Since the Portland Harbor Hotel introduced its first ice bar nine years ago, ice bars have become hip, high-profile events across Maine.
Ice carving is an ancient art form, but it’s still novel enough that people flock to ice sculptures. There’s enough interest in his craft that Bouchard and others carve year-round.
“They’re popular because the ice is beautiful and you don’t get to see it too much,” he said this week as he prepared blocks of ice for the bar in Freeport. “We’re fortunate in Maine. We have nice, clear water.”
Bouchard, 33, learned his skills while studying culinary arts at Southern Maine Community College. He apprenticed with various chefs and carvers across Maine before beginning his own business, Frozen in Time, six years ago.
It’s strictly a sideline for him, a hobby that he has turned into a healthy part-time business that keeps him busy when he’s not cooking or being a father.
It may be a stretch — or even cynical — to attribute the popularity of ice bars to winter boredom. Only in Maine would we find it a form of entertainment to stand out in the cold sipping martinis when any sensible soul would step inside.
But there’s no question that part of the ice-bar phenomenon is owed to the idea that people are looking for things to do at this time of the year. The days are beginning to get a little longer and the light a little brighter, and people seem ready to shake off the winter blues and begin the de-hibernation process.
David Koepke, of Richmond, laughed when asked why he plans to attend the ice bar at the Inn at Brunswick Station next weekend. He and his wife, Carolyn, went last year and had a blast. It was a fun, festive event, he said.
“‘Tis the season,” Koepke said. “It’s kind of a unique situation that people will stand out in the cold and socialize, and the ice-bar sculpture was really cool.”
Event organizers recognize ice bars’ popularity and have built fundraising and community-building components into the events. There’s often a DJ or a band, a great spread of food and sometimes an outdoor fire. Tonight in Freeport, an art auction will benefit the local food pantry.
This is the second year that Flavors of Freeport has featured an ice bar.
“In February, we are all at the point of looking to get out of the house and do something different, to get out and do something fun,” said Kelly Edwards, event manager for Freeport USA, which organizes the foodie festivities.
Edwards attended an ice bar at the Portland Harbor Hotel and brought the idea to Freeport. Tonight’s event had sold out by Thursday.
The bar will be set up in the courtyard at the Hilton Garden Inn. Participants will mingle and enjoy cold-weather favorites — food and drink alike.
Bouchard did most of the carving for the ice bar this week in his backyard studio. He planned to set up the bar late this afternoon, as temperatures begin to cool.