By Rebecca Denton
After a 12-hour day as executive chef at the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University, Matt Simonds will often drive to his home in La Vergne, grab a chainsaw and head to the walk-in freezer in his basement.
In the 15-degree cooler, he’ll carve intricate shapes out of 310-pound blocks of ice – sometimes for nine or 10 hours straight.
“Sometimes I’ll carve through the night,” he says. “Or I’ll carve on my days off.”
This determination – and occasional sleep deprivation – is all part of the niche side business he has carved in ice.
Through his Nashville company, Specialty Ice Carvings, Simonds can recreate a corporate logo (and just about anything else) in a sculpture. One of his most popular and progressive ice sculptures is a luge – an ice slide through which someone pours a drink and catches it at the bottom in a glass.
“I did one for a bar mitzvah, and it went like wildfire after that party,” he says. “It’s the number-one piece that I do, hands-down. They’re a lot of fun, and they get people involved.”
Simonds has created so many ice luges, he can usually make one in about 40 minutes. A typical ice sculpture takes him about two hours, while a 2,000-pound ice bar could take 10 or 12 hours.
He views the ice work as a spin-off of his training as an executive chef – a blend of artistic creation, presentation and old-fashioned hard work.
“If it wasn’t for being a chef, I wouldn’t have gotten into ice,” he says. “They go hand in hand.”
Breaking the Ice
A native of Hawaii, Simonds started his culinary career through an apprenticeship program at The Greenbrier, a five-diamond luxury resort and hotel in West Virginia. The art of ice carving caught his eye, and a fellow chef taught him the basics. Soon he was competing in ice-carving competitions, which led to an intensive, month-long internship with Mark Daukas, an international ice-carving champion and innovator in the field.
Simonds wasn’t a natural at ice carving, however. It took a lot of practice.
“When I first started, I couldn’t draw a stick figure to save my life,” he says. “I had no artistic ability whatsoever. It’s more patience than anything, and learning to use the tools. You start picking up on movement and flow and symmetry. You learn something new every day.”
King of Cool
Simonds bounced around as a chef to jobs in different states, all while competing in ice-carving championships throughout the country and running an ice-carving business on the side. He moved to Tennessee in 1990 and became involved in the National Ice Carving Association, which began hosting ice-carving competitions in Nashville.
In 1992, Simonds won $18,000 in competitions, and he landed the Tennessee state title seven years in a row. He finished second in the nationals one year and judged the national competition in 2002.
Now 44 years old, with a family – including his wife, Lynn, of 21 years, and their four children – Simonds rarely competes. Instead, he spends his spare time carving motorcycles, corporate logos, surfers, swans, hearts, snowmen, mermaids, horses – and just about anything else someone wants made of ice.
He donates many ice sculptures to charity events, and he does demonstrations for churches and other groups by request.
Most of Simonds’ business comes through word of mouth, and his reputation has secured some major clients, including Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.
He creates all the ice sculptures for Gaylord Opryland, except for the major holiday ICE exhibit hosted each year at the Gaslight Theatre.
Vincent Dreffs, director of catering for Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, says ice sculptures are often used these days as marketing tools to display company logos or sponsors of the event, and as intricate and interactive décor – from ice vases for fresh flowers to ice bars, cold buffet tables and ice luges.
“I believe guests are always going to be infatuated with items that take them to the unknown,” Dreffs says. “We know we are getting the forefront of the industry when Matt is involved in an ice presentation.”
Contact Matt Simonds at (615) 948-7281 or by visiting www.specialtyicecarvings.com.