BY AUSTIN WELLS
Philippe Saraiva is a man of many talents, but is an artist first and foremost. In the winter, when he isn’t working at Conestoga’s Waterloo campus as a chef and culinary teacher, he passes his time at ice carving competitions.
“As faculty here at Conestoga, it takes quite a bit of my time during the week, but during wintertime I need to release a bit of steam and I’m fortunate enough to be invited to ice carving festivals which is how I get my stress release,” Saraiva said. “At Polarfest in Lakefield, 900 pounds of ice was given to us to work with, and with the temperature at the time it really created perfect conditions. There was no better time to be outside carving ice. Normally, around this time of year, I’d be going to Yorkville Ice Fest, but it happens to be at the same time as Winterloo, so I’m committing myself to the local festival on the 24th instead.”
Saraiva, who moved to Canada from northern France in 1986, has been carving ice since 1999. He was taught the art by world champion carvers Steve Brice and Aaron Costic, and has competed ever since. When asked about his time with the two world champions, Saraiva showed a great deal of admiration and respect in his descriptions.
“I’m not much of an artist in the natural or traditional way. As a culinary teacher, we use art in design and plating dishes, but I don’t come from the arts world. I stumbled upon carving rather than having it be something I’ve practised since I was young,” Saraiva said, adding with a smile: “When you work with carvers like Costick and Brice, they make everything so simple. They do things I’m still not able to replicate. They have that eye, they’re able to see the art and the carve within the block.”
In addition to competing, Saraiva has completed over 30 sculptures for the college for various events and ceremonies, and has completed works in the past for events for cities around the region. When it comes to competitions, he confessed that he hasn’t had the best luck.
“I’ve competed 10 times in Toronto, five times in Waterloo and once in Lakefield at Polarfest, which was February. I know what you’re going to ask next, and yes, I’ve only won one competition,” Saraiva said, laughing heartily.
When it comes to working at Conestoga, Saraiva seemed quite happy about the time he’s spent teaching in the culinary program. After arriving in Canada in 1986, he floated between various jobs, starting off in the restaurants of local establishments such as the Walper Terrace Hotel and Westmount Golf and Country Club. He worked part time at both Conestoga College and the University of Guelph, though he switched to full-time work with Conestoga in 1999 and hasn’t looked back since.
“Now that it’s been 20 years since I started teaching full time, I’m starting to appreciate that anywhere I go, I run into people in the industry who I’ve taught, and it’s nice to see that I’ve been making a difference and helping people with their careers,” Saraiva said. “Seeing that it’s not just about teaching them but the fact they appreciate and remembered everything that I did is wonderful.”
However, he is not without regrets, professionally and recreationally. When describing his biggest regrets, his tone shifted from energetic and joyful to sad and remorseful.
“I have regrets with both working here and sculpting. Once, at a competition, the wings of one of my pieces fell off just as it was about to be judged, leaving me with nothing to have judged,” Saraiva said. “Another time, I helped one of my students at a youth competition here at the college, which they won. However, that same night, they passed away, and it was very difficult for me to see someone get rewarded for their hard work and talent but then not be able to enjoy or appreciate any of it.”
Going into Winterloo’s ice carving competition, which took place on Feb. 24, Saraiva was confident, but openly acknowledged some of his weaknesses as a carver.
“Personally, my biggest flaw is that I don’t plan ahead, contrary to other carvers. Most people plan ahead, whereas I just freelance and go with the flow. That’s challenging, because time is limited and having everything planned is the way to go. It’s paid off sometimes, but hasn’t in other times.”
Saraiva said he appreciates having ice carving as a hobby, a hobby that he’s attempted different variations on.
“I’ve been fortunate to make many of these sculptures for Conestoga at various ceremonies and events. It’s nice to have people see something in you that may be better than what you think you are,” Saraiva said. “I don’t do it for the money, nobody does, I do it for the ability to express myself and the joy of competing and seeing a finished product. In the winter, I work with ice, but in the summer I’ve practised carving on different fruits. The beauty of ice is that it melts. I definitely wouldn’t want to do stone. The remindings of bad carvings would be bad for my psyche.”