Food services manager shares a cool talent

Chef, caterer, manager and teacher are all titles Sam Bolden holds, but coolest of all is one of his lesser known roles.

Bolden, the food services manager at Ivy Tech Community College−Northeast, has been an ice sculptor for 30 years. He can take a 300-pound block of ice and carve it into a work of art in less than two hours. His latest works were a twisted cornucopia and a swirled punch bowl put on display at the Thanksgiving Dinner Buffet for faculty, staff and students.

His interest in the art form was sparked in the early ’80s when he worked for Hilton and saw his supervisor create sculptures for the weekly food buffet. After “constant badgering” on Bolden’s part, his mentor caved in and let him carve ice, eventually putting Bolden’s creations on display. 

When he continued to sculpt ice at his next job with Compass Group, his talent was recognized by a vice president of the company. The man encouraged Bolden to enter the Plymouth International Ice Spectacular, offering to cover all expenses. And just like that, Bolden was on his way to Michigan. He described that competition as an eye-opening experience.

“The first year I went, there were two things I noticed: Everybody there was really good and it was really cold,” Bolden said. “An hour into the competition I heard a bunch of commotion. One of my competitors had made a spiral staircase with a fire-breathing dragon…I was halfway done, struggling. I left like, ‘What am I going to do now?’”

Ice, as Bolden puts it, is unforgiving. It is what both challenges him and pulls him in at the same time.

“You can’t hit the ice or carve on it when it’s too cold; it tends to crack. If it’s too warm, it melts more quickly than you can finish your piece. Timing is huge, understanding all the conditions and variables and design—they all play into it.

“What it’s taught me the most is how to be patient—that’s just the nature of ice,” Bolden said.

He pursued his passion and went on to partake in ice sculpting competitions from 1994 to 2000. His greatest feat was taking home a bronze medal at the 1998 National Ice Carving Association Championship in Scranton, Penn., with a sculpture of a chef riding a lobster.

Though he has since stepped out of the competitive world of ice sculpting, Bolden has not given it up all together. He still makes sculptures a few times a year by special request, most recently at the request of his student employees.

Bolden operates the two eateries at Ivy Tech–Northeast: the Wrap ‘N’ Roll Deli and the Blue Bamboo Café, where he supervises more than 10 employees. When he shared his ice sculpting competition photos with a few of them, they wanted to learn the craft, and Bolden fondly obliged to teach them.

Hospitality Administration student Glenda Hinton was one of his employees who had a hand in creating the Thanksgiving buffet sculptures. Though it was her first time carving ice, she learned quickly with Bolden’s mentoring. 

“Sam is a patient man and understands that everyone has different skill sets, and he gives you plenty of opportunities to sharpen them,” Hinton said. “He makes work fun and enjoyable while sharing an abundant wealth of knowledge.”

Bolden said once things settle down, he would like to compete again professionally, but this time he wants to bring his students along.

“I think it’d be neat to see my students try it,” Bolden said.

“It just took one guy to say, ‘Hey, go try this’ in order for me to get interested in it. You never know ’til you try it.”

Sam Bolden stands by the cornucopia he and his employees carved for the Thanksgiving Dinner Buffet.

Bolden instructs employee Glenda Hinton on how to carve designs into the ice punch bowl.

The completed ice punch bowl was on display at the Thanksgiving Dinner Buffet.