When Takashi Ito stands before a two-metre tall ice canvas, the Victoria chef already has a vision in mind. While most working stiffs look forward to a sun-drenched beach during a B.C. winter getaway, Ito heads to places like Saskatoon in search of solid ice.
His carving is inspired by little things: boats in the Inner Harbour, cyclists pedalling by during the Tour de Victoria. Then the creative design process – his favourite part – begins.
Once, for a fairy-themed ice carving competition, he created a wine fairy – gracefully splayed on a chair with a half-empty wine glass in hand.
“Always some action is happening, movement is important. What makes a difference (in competition) is the design,” he says. “If I do a horse standing, it’s a statue. If it’s ready to jump, it comes alive.”
Carving takes two or three days of 12-plus-hours even with power tools.
“Ice carving is my hobby. I’m getting old now, I do much less,” he says with a grin. “I still go to one or two competitions a year.”
His creations built outdoors can be as large as two-by-four-metres and don’t melt during the process so detail is preserved. The hobby draws him around the world to places like Alaska, Russia and Switzerland, but the highlight for Ito is representing Canada twice at the Olympics, in Nagano (1998) and Salt Lake City (2002).
Alongside the traditional winter sports event, cultures are celebrated, which includes an “intense” Olympic ice carving competition.
The choice of holiday location for the executive chef of Aura restaurant at the Laurel Point Inn, is as unusual as his early career options.
Japanese born, Ito visited Canada between his first and second year studying law in university, and travelled cross-country from Vancouver to P.E.I.
“I fell in love with (Canada). I thought ‘how can I stay here?’” he says, his Japanese heritage still flavouring his words “They weren’t looking for lawyers.”
Ito polished off university and cooking school concurrently and completed an apprenticeship while working through months of immigration hoops.
He made his way into Canadian kitchens in the early 1980s and started carving a niche in ice with the buffet table-sized creations that he rarely builds now.
At that time Japan had the best ice carvers in the world and a team was visiting Winterlude in Ottawa while Ito also explored the festival.
“It’s all coincidence and timing,” he says.