British Columbia·Photos

Canadian chefs take 2nd at international ice sculpture competition

A pair of chefs representing Canada won second place in one of the world's largest ice carving competitions, which takes place each year in northeastern China.

Rusty Cox and Steve Buzak's intricate honey bee sculpture beat out teams from Latvia to Japan

Steve Buzak (left) and Rusty Cox say they were proud to represent Team Canada at the one of the world's largest snow festivals. (Rusty Cox)

A pair of chefs representing Canada won second place in one of the world's largest ice carving competitions, which takes place each year in northeastern China.

Rusty Cox, of Cranbrook, B.C., and Steve Buzak, from Edmonton, Alta. took home nearly $1,600 Cdn at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival two weeks ago.

"Honestly what it is, is fun," said Cox, 45.

A close-up of the honeybee sitting above a flower in the centre of the ice sculpture. (Rusty Cox)

Competitors had 22 hours to carve a sculpture using a 1,814-kilogram block of ice, he said.

Rather than sawing directly into the block, they "deconstructed" it to carve a honeybee sitting on a single flower surrounded by a hive of smaller honeycombs.

One of the many honeycomb pieces that Cox and Buzak individually carved as part of their larger honeybee sculpture in Harbin, China. (Cathy Cox/Facebook)

The intricate design forced the two to hustle when putting it together.

"We had five hours to go in the competition and our sculpture was only four feet high (1.2 metres) with all our prepped pieces to go," recalled Cox.

The final structure was triple that height — it stood more than 3.6 metres high.

Cox says depending on how and where you looked at the massive sculpture, it took on a different perspective.

Ice carvers Rusty Cox and Steve Buzak carefully piece together their ice sculpture using water after carving out individual honeycomb pieces. (Cathy Cox/Facebook)

"If you're person looking at it, you'd initially see the large honeycomb but we took into account, if you were a bee looking at it, their eyes are similar to flies ... they would see many smaller honeycombs within the larger one," he said.

It was inspired by the growing concern about the loss of bees and its impact in North America, he said.

Russia's abstract design of a First Nations man blending with an eagle and bear won it the first prize and Latvia came in third.

The B.C. duo's design is far more political this year than their Harry Potter piece from a decade ago when they placed sixth in the same competition.

Ten years ago, the duo carved this scene from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when they competed in Harbin, China. (Rusty Cox)

Self-taught carvers

A self-taught ice carver, Cox said he started off by toying with elements in his kitchen — sugar and chocolate.

After seeing someone carve ice for the first time, he became intrigued. 

"I went and bought myself some cheap wood chisels, locked myself in a freezer for three-and-a-half hours and I came out with a beaver," he said. "It wasn't very good, but I was hooked."

That was more than two decades ago.

Now, the full-time chef said he's trying to commit more time to his passion, after taking a few years off.

But his age hasn't made things easier because the craft is so physically demanding.

He hopes more younger people will participate and help keep the art form alive.

"We started 22 years ago carving, we were the young guns in the game — today we're still among the youngest in there," he said.

"This is one of the most unique things you could ever do, using a medium that is here one day and literally, gone in a couple hours."

Inspired by Log Driver's Waltz

In addition to the victory in Harbin, Cox said he and partner placed fifth at the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival just last week.

They carved a tribute to their childhood memory of watching — on CBC television — a 1979 National Film Board animated vignette set to The Log Driver's Waltz.

For a Canada-themed competition at Lake Louise, Alta., Cox and Buzak paid tribute to one of their favourite childhood memories. (Davina Bernard/Facebook)
A scene from the animated vignette that inspired the two B.C. chefs to create an ice sculpture. (National Film Board)