The sweltering job of carving ice in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- So far this spring, New Orleans has seen record-high temperatures on multiple days.  And we all know where the mercury goes during summer.

Maybe finding a cool job is as easy as finding people who work with ice.

Not so fast.

Turns out, many of the artists who turn blocks of ice into beautiful sculptures do a majority of their work outdoors, even when the temperature is in the 90s.

"You gotta knock it out quick because if not, in the south, it's gonna melt on you," says Jason Lewis, a chef who also owns J. Lewis Ice Carvings in Harvey.

Lewis says the heat adds more than one problem to the job.  First, taking a block of ice directly from the freezer into the heat can cause problems for ice carvers.

"Take it out of the freezer, if it's too cold, when you're dealing with the heat, it will crack on you," Lewis says.  He says that he will allow a block of ice to rest for up to two hours at room temperature before beginning to carve it in the heat.

Next comes the second and more obvious problem, the melt.  Ice carvers pride themselves on the detail that they add to their sculptures.  But when the high temperatures bare down on ice that's already a little soft because it's been resting for a couple of hours, the details that are added to the sculpture can simply melt away.

Lewis says the only real solution is to work quickly and to return the ice to the freezer as needed.

Across the Mississippi River in Gentilly, Christopher Hunter stands under an umbrella outside his business,  Jazzy Ice Sculptures, while working on an ice angel fish.  Lewis says it's especially important for ice carvers, no matter how quickly they can work, to make sure the ice remains in the shade.

"Once sunlight hits an ice sculpture, as you try to carve it, it crumbles just like broken car glass would," Hunter says.

Both artists say that they will usually finish final details of their sculptures once they're at their final banquet, reception or party location.

Hunter also uses a unique approach to keep cool while carving in the heat.  He collects the shavings as he carves his sculptures and put them on his head or even eats them, you know, like a snowball.

"It's just like a snowball," he says, "without the wild cherry that I like on top."

Click on the video button at the top of the page to see Hunter and Lewis at work!