Plymouth chef finds hot market for ice

PLYMOUTH — How did Jeff Day come to spend so much of his time carving ice? It all started by cracking a few eggs.

Day's professional training is as a chef. He still spends many hours cooking, as he owns the Plain Jane Diner in Rumney. When he's not in the kitchen, though, he can typically be found in a small commercial building on Fairgrounds Road in Plymouth, carving sculptures out of ice. He traces his ice carving business back to his first culinary job, working at a high-end hotel in San Diego, California, which had a restaurant that served up to 900 people each Sunday brunch.

"Because I was the new guy, I was the omelet guy," said Day. The omelet station was right next to the ice sculpture, so he passed the time by chatting with the sculptor. "I hung around them and got very much interested – the bug was bit in San Diego," he said, though he never did any ice carving in California.

When he moved back to New Hampshire – he had received his degree at the culinary school in Berlin – he got a job at the Center of New Hampshire hotel in Manchester. There, with some youthful bluster, was where he first converted a block of ice into art.

"The chef asked me if I could carve. I said, 'Absolutely.' I had no idea what I was doing," he said. After struggling through a few homely sculptures, he started to get the hang of it, and wanted to take his skills to a new level. He did so by working with Boston-area ice sculptors Steve Rose and Bill Covitz, carving alongside them for free, just to see how they created their masterpieces.

When he became the chef at the Center of New Hampshire, in 1995, Day gained the latitude to follow his creativity. As the largest convention venue in New Hampshire at the time, the facility hosted the governor's balls. For a ball when Jeanne Shaheen was governor, Day carved a life-size horse and carriage. For Gov. John Lynch, he created a full-size moose.

The Plain Jane Diner is a much smaller scale than the Center of New Hampshire, which has allowed Day to expand his ice carving business. He started with a couple of ice-block machines in the basement of the diner, and would transport the blocks to a walk-in freezer in his back yard. Last winter, he purchased the building on Fairgrounds Road, which has opened a new level of ice carving to him.

He now has nine machines making ice blocks. Each one can freeze a pair of 300-pound blocks of ice in three-and-a-half days, giving him the capacity to produce 36 blocks each week. In addition to making ice for himself, he's also selling blocks to the two other ice carvers working in New Hampshire. He's sold 250 blocks to other carvers this year, something that has taken him by surprise.

"It's been something I didn't expect," he said.

He has also found a hot market for his scrap ice, left over after the sculpture is finished. He cuts it into large cubes, up to 3 inches in each dimension, and sells it to high-end whiskey bars.

"The business had always been my side business, but it has grown and grown and grown. It's incredible how busy I am," Day said. His creations are seen at First Night celebrations, corporate functions, and he has become the go-to guy for ice bars.

"Something we've really nailed is the ice bar events," he said, referring to events, typically outdoors and in the winter, where everything is made of ice, including the bars themselves.  He is currently working on creating everything necessary for the ice bar at the Portland Harbor Hotel, in Portland, Maine, which will be held Jan. 21-23 this year and will feature two martini bars and one bar for Shipyard beer. This will be the 12th time that Day has carved all the ice for the event, and is proud to report that Forbes Travel Guide included it on its list of "5 Ice Bars Too Cool to Miss This Season." The other ice bars included two in Utah, one in Alaska and one in Sweden.

Day said he "absolutely" prefers ice carving to work in his kitchen. Aside from occasional help from his friend Jeff Landry, who helps assemble the large carvings, Day likes working by himself in his walk-in freezer, with just the radio, the ice and his artistic vision. He has even come to love the smell of ice.

"At the beginning, I was just interested in the artistic end of it, the creativity. It was a good outlet for me. Now, I'm still interested in the creativity, but it's very much a business – It just keeps getting busier."

Neglected land could be cleaned up if city allows sale

LACONIA — The City Council this week tabled an offer from Harry Bean to purchase part of a 1.67-acre lot owned by the city on Davis Place, which has become an unsightly dumping ground.

Bean seeks to purchase 9,810 square feet of untended woodland straddling Jewett Brook and lying between a house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place, on the opposite bank of the brook, and the remainder of the city property, part of which serves as a parking lot. Bean said yesterday that he is renovating the property at 32 Davis Place as a home for his granddaughter and adding the land next door to his lot would ensure that it is no longer neglected.

"One tree has blown down and others are rotten," he said, "and we've had shopping carts, mattresses, TVs, you name it, left there."

Bean offered $1,000 for the property, which would be acquired by a boundary line adjustment. Since the parcel would be carved out of the larger lot, its assessed value has not been determined. If the transaction closed, the property would be returned to the tax rolls and its value reflected in the assessment of the lot at 32 Davis Place to which it would be added.

Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said that "Harry (Bean) is concerned about what goes on at that wood lot." Describing the property as "a piece of crap," he said that "the city has everything to gain and nothing to lose, even at a price of $1,000. I think it's a good deal for the city."

City Manager Scott Myers explained that the first step in the process of selling the property would be to schedule a public hearing to determine that it is "surplus." However, the council asked Myers to obtain an appraisal of the property as well as approach Bean about paying the transaction costs and agreeing to restrict the use of the land.

Bean, who has recently renovated several properties in the city, said "I like to take the worst place on the street and turn it into the best place," adding that "it gives the neighbors an incentive to improve their properties."

Small town, three libraries - Gilmanton debates funding Year-Round Library, two others have survived for a century

Conceived of by its supporters as a unifying force in this largely rural community of 3,800, the Gilmanton Year-Round Library continues to be at the center of an ongoing dispute over the funding of its operating costs seven years after it opened its doors.
Gilmanton has two other small libraries that receive modest levels of official town support but are not open on a full-time basis; the Corner Library next to the former Gilmanton Academy building which now houses town offices and the Gilmanton Iron Works Library, built in 1916 which is only open during the summer months,
The Corner Library, housed in what had been Ira Pennock's cobbler shop, celebrated its 100th anniversary as a library in 2012 and is open six hours a week during the winter. Both of the small libraries lack room for expansion
Deb Chase, a trustee of the Gilmanton Corner Library, said the Corner Library is the only true public library in town because it is owned by the public. She says that the other two libraries are privately owned and controlled by private boards of directors.
But neither of the older libraries has ever been funded at the levels of the newer year-round library.
This year, voters will be faced with a petitioned warrant article which would authorize the town to spend $50,000 a year for the next three years to support the library's operations, which because it totals an appropriation of more than $100,000, will require a 60 percent majority vote. Another petitioned warrant article calling for an appropriation of $50,000 to support the library's operations will also be on the ballot will require only a majority vote.
Built as a result of a nearly decade-long drive by volunteers who decided to create a modern full-service library in one of the only towns in the state that lacked a full-time public library, the library was built from an 18th century barn which was found in North Hampton and was dismantled and moved to a five-acre field across from the Gilmanton School where it was reassembled.
The volunteer group led by Elizabeth Bedard was formed in 1998 and raised $675,000, mostly in donations and grants as well as fundraisers like selling T-shirts and mugs, holding ice cream socials and walkathons and publishing a cookbook of local recipes.
Its efforts were rewarded with a completed two-story timber-frame building which highlights the rough-hewn beams from the original barn and is surrounded by a modern shell. Inside are more than 8,000 books, six computers for public use and wireless Internet for those with laptops, as well as audio books, newspapers, magazines, DVDs and CDs.
The group even had plans to establish an endowment fund which would pay the operational costs of the library and in 2008 started advertising in alumni magazines of Harvard and other Ivy League colleges in an effort to attract a donor for whom the library would be named.
But that never materialized, and late in 2008 the group announced that it would ask for $75,000 at the 2009 Town Meeting to fund the library's operations.
After a divisive, bitter debate, the article was defeated by a convincing margin, 224 to 125, at the March Town Meeting. Opponents claimed the association members had long promised they would never ask for tax dollars to support their library.
The Year-Round library was able to open in 2009 after it received a gift of $75,000 from an anonymous donor and ever since then it has turned to the community for support for its operating budget, usually in the $45,000 range.
But in 2013, the first year of SB 2 official ballot law voting, the funding request was turned down 400-322, raising concerns over whether or not the library would remain open. In 2014, the funding article passed by just 17 votes, and in 2015 it won by nearly 100 votes.
Selectman Don Guarino, who said he is a card-carrying supporter of the library, said the dispute lingers due to what he says were promises by library supporters that the facility "would never become a burden to taxpayers."
He says that there are good people on both sides of the public funding issue and that he would prefer to see the operating funds raised through community donations rather than property taxes.
Guarino said that selectmen will have to vote soon on whether they support or oppose the petitioned warrant articles as that information must be on the printed ballots at town meeting.
Chris Schlegel, president of the library association, said that the organization decided to ask for a three-year commitment of funds from townspeople in part because members felt that the yearly requests have become a divisive force in the community.
But, more importantly, she said that knowing the funds will be available in future years will allow the librarians to plan programs more effectively.
"It also shows that we're still committed to raising funds for the library's operations well into the future," said Schlegel.