Blue Cross of NEPA
Hometown: Clarks Summit, Pa.
Education: Culinary Institute of America, American Culinary Federation certified.
Married and lives with his wife, Marion, in Clarks Summit, Pa.
During a 35-year career, Nello Allegrucci has carved out a special niche for himself in foodservice. By day he is general manager and executive chef for Metz & Associates at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where he is developing a Pa.-preferred program—a one-day event that will feature products grown or produced in the state of Pennsylvania. By night, he can be found, chainsaw in hand, carving out intricate sculptures from a 300-pound block of ice.
“When I was a young cook, I’d seen an ice sculpture at a competition. As soon as I saw it, I was really intrigued by it. I asked the chef I was working for at the time if he could show me how to make ice sculptures. He couldn’t, but he told me where to go to learn. I went up to a place in the Poconos and a chef from Switzerland taught us how to do the ice carvings. We started out by making very basic things like bowls. This was just with chisels, no power tools. As we got better, we made other things like vases, until we were trying to duplicate more difficult things the teacher had made.
It takes a long time until you can master ice sculpture; by master it, I mean being able to look at it and know exactly what it is. A lot of times you’ll be carving and it’s hard to understand what the sculpture is. The more time you put into it, the better you get at it. I’ve been doing ice sculptures for about 30 years.
From the beginning when my brother Carmen—who is also a chef—and I started carving, we’ve always done ice carvings for events separate from our day jobs. We have made everything you can think of. We do a lot of stuff for The Woodlands, which is a popular nearby resort. We don’t advertise or anything, but people call us and we do this on the side. We call our little business Carving Creations. I’ve done a couple for our café here at Blue Cross. We did a raw bar once and I carved a swordfish jumping out of the water.
First I draw what I want to carve on the side of the ice. Then we take a chainsaw and cut away all the ice we don’t want. We use the chainsaw to get the shape close to where it should be. We use other power tools like grinders to grind it to exactly the outline of the sculpture. Then, we use ice chisels to put details like wings and feathers on. One sculpture takes about four hours. Then, we put it in the freezer. Once it’s in place at an event, it will hold up for about six or seven hours.
Nowadays there are a lot of cool things we can do. Say you wanted a swan. We would do a swan and then we could put a funnel through the wings and you could pour martinis or something through the carving. Also, we did this one where we hollowed out the inside and filled it with fruit like lemons, oranges and strawberries, and then you could pour the liquid through the fruit. That makes for a really neat sculpture when you’re serving a citrus martini or something.
We really just learn new techniques as people ask us for different things. The Woodlands is always looking for something that’s never been done before. I enjoy it because it’s unique. There are not a lot of people who do it and it just adds so much to a buffet or a function. It really sets your event apart.”