Ice Brigade

Has Reality Hit Reality Food TV?

If the universe has taught us anything it’s that life is cyclical.  Greece becomes the world’s first global empire but in just a few hundred years it is replaced by Rome.  Rome lasts a few hundred years giving way to the Ottomans who then yield to Great Britain.  See what I mean?

The same is true with television programming.  Remember when westerns ruled the tube?  Of course not, if you are old enough to remember that chances are you don’t know what a blog is.  You’ve heard the names though: The Rifleman, Big Valley, Rawhide, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, et al.  Every channel (all three) had several westerns.  That was followed by family sit coms, cop-buddy shows and the night-time soap opera.

The same is true for food television.  Remember when food shows featured talented chefs who taught you how to cook and actually made learning entertaining?  Then came the food contests like the original Iron Chef which was followed by Iron Chef America, Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, etc.

Chamed City CakesWhen Ace of Cakes hit the air back in 2006 it was a revelation of food programming.  Food Network had simply taken a camera crew to chronicle the everyday lives of the anything-but-everyday cake decorators at Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes.  It was an instant hit.  The Network tried to duplicate the magic a year later with Two Dudes Catering but the forced dialog and contrived tension between the owners did not resonate with viewers.  Though that copycat failed dozens have flourished like TLC’s Cake Boss, Planet Green’s Future Food, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills and the feel good mini-series The Chef Jeff Project.

A scant five years later and it appears this trend is petering out.  Just a few months ago Ace of Cakes wrapped it’s final show.  On March 3rd Food Network attempted to regain the glory of Ace with a new series about ice sculpting called Ice Brigade which features the same eye-popping creativity and a gaggle of cool characters headed by Chef Randy Finch.

Just before the premiere I spoke with Finch and asked him if Ice Brigade can do for ice sculpting what Ace of Cakes did for cake decorating?  He replied, “I tell you I really hope that it does.”  The ratings thus far have been fine but Ice does not appear to be creating the same buzz that Duff and the gang at Charmed City Cakes did when they first hit the airwaves.  This despite the fact that it is easily as entertaining in every way.

Also saying goodbye earlier this year was the Private Chefs of Beverly Hills, gone after just two seasons. PCOBH burst onto the scenes with a cast of chefs straight out of the pages of a fashion magazine (literally in the case of former model Manouschka Guerrier).  The blogosphere exploded with debates over whether the uber-demanding clients were real (they were) and proclamations as to who was everyone’s favorite chef.  They were the hottest caters in the nation by far.  Now PCOBH has gone its way like roman candles fizzing out.

The latest sign that the reality food show is waning is the recent premiere of SyFy’s new show Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen starring Chef Marcel Vigneron.  It would seem that a show about the hottest trend in food right now, molecular gastronomy, hosted by a Top Chef alum would be a cinch hit for a network that caters to the comic-con crowd.  After a tremendous media blitz the first episode failed to draw even one million viewers.  A paltry 600,000 according to

Sasha Perl-RaverI asked PCOBH alum Sasha Perl-Raver her thoughts on the matter and she opined, “I think, if anything, reality cooking shows will only grow. The market is just starting to boom and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Next Great Restaurant might not be a hit, but Top Chef has spawned three spin offs, Masters, All-Stars and Just Desserts, Food Network gave birth to Cooking Channel.”

Sasha should know.  Not only did she star in a hit food reality show but she has also used her considerable connections in Hollywood to become a genuine TV trend spotter doing work as an entertainment reporter at NBC Universal and for SheKnows, LLC .  Sasha also maintains the very popular blog, Hollywood Bites.   So what’s her expert opinion?  “If anything, I think this is just the beginning.”

Sasha certainly knows her stuff.  While the numbers on behind-the-scenes reality food shows may be on the decline, reality food competitions are only becoming more popular.  Next Food Network Star is currently putting together its seventh season while Iron Chef America and Top Chef continue to capture ratings and both have generated popular spin-offs.  Chopped has gone from cult favorite to bona fide hit with this month’s special series, Chopped All-Stars which pits some of the network’s most popular chefs head-to-head for a $50,000 payday for the charity of their choice.  The numbers from the first two weeks were staggering as host Ted Allen recently revealed on his Facebook page, “Chopped All-Stars was the number one show on cable last Sunday: 6.3 million viewers!”


For more on Chopped All-Stars click HERE.

Chopped All-Stars was the number one show on cable last Sunday: 6.3 million viewers!

WTVC Exclusive: Ice Brigade Star Randy Finch

On Thursday March 3rd Food Network unveils its latest foray into reality TV with the premiere of Ice Brigade.  The show follows the exploits of Ice Sculptures Ltd. a Michigan-based company that specializes in elaborate, innovative and sometimes bizarre ice sculptures.  It’s not a reality competition in the vein Next Food Network Star or the reprehensible Cupcake Wars but more along the lines of the recently departed Ace of Cakes.

Randy FinchThe comparison to Ace of Cakes, the show that brought special event cake decorating into the mainstream, is one the folks at Ice Brigade should get used to.  The formula for this new show is one that Food Network is batting .500 with.  Ace was a smash hit that has produced roughly half a dozen weak imitators.  The follow-up effort using that same formula, 2 Dudes Catering, was a disaster that was mercifully canceled after just five episodes.  Apparently no one wanted to watch a pair of dirty hippies charge outrageous prices for average catering service.  This would be the rubber match so to speak.  Will Ice be another Ace-like triumph or the next 2 Dudes-esque flop?

After spending an afternoon chatting with host Randy Finch I find myself anticipating this premiere greatly.  Ice sculpting is not something I have had any first hand experience with in my quarter century in the food service industry.  I’ve never once had a bride-to-be request or even mention having an ice sculpture at her wedding reception.  Listening to Finch describe the type of work he does I am quite intrigued.  But I’ll let Finch tell you himself.

What should Food Network fans look forward to from Ice Brigade?

Ice BrigadeOn the Ice Brigrade Show by doing really interactive things it’s really drawn out.  The clients have you really think outside the box.  They come up with interesting sculpures and challenges for us.  We had several of the sculptures for season one already on the books including a putt putt golf course that we did.  There was a piano and some of these other things that we were looking at doing already.  But when we were deciding we were going to be doing this for the series we said hey, how much more can we put in this? and really started brainstorming how far we could push this.

For example?

So we would say okay we have a piano.  We’ll make it full size.  Okay we’ll make the lid up.  Okay what else can we do?  Then we’ll add a bench that somebody can sit on.  It finally got to the point where we made individual keys that moved and in the end we were able to make each key play a note.

Do you think Ice Brigade can do for ice sculpting what Ace of Cakes did for cake decorating?

I tell you I really hope that it does.  Ice sculpting is something that a lot of people are really fascinated with but don’t really know a lot about.   Kids love to see that stuff because they’ve got such great imaginations.  This is part of the culinary arts, that’s where I learned it.  That’s what the purpose of it is and how it fits into both food and beverage.

How long does it take to learn the art of ice sculpting?

Actually, I couldn’t tell you that because I haven’t stopped learning myself.  Every day there’s something new.  I thought I knew it all but I don’t.  It’s amazing, students when I teach classes ask Why can’t you do it this way? I say I guess cuz I never thought of it. So yeah, we can do it that way.  Even though it’s been around for hundreds of years it’s still in its infancy I think.

What motivated you to start Ice Sculptures Ltd.?

My business partner Derek Maxwell and myself started the business at least 15 years ago.  We were doing ice sculpting as part of our jobs as chefs, classically trained.  We were fortunate enough to work under several really talented ice sculptures including Chef Dan Hugelier who’s a master chef on a couple of the (food) olympic teams.  His specialty was ice sculpting so we both were working for him at the time.  We got to know each other and became fast friends and did a lot of the competing and developed our skills as ice sculptures in general while we were cooking.

Then we decided to focus, like a lot of chefs do, in one particular area.  So as opposed to going to cakes or molded sugar we went to ice and specialized in that.  Our goal is try to elevate it to a new level both quality and technique-wise.  That’s what we do now.  We do sculptures for weddings, anniversaries, small little birthday parties and movie premieres.  It allows us a platform to do really fun things and I truly don’t believe I’ve worked in 20 years.

Ice BrigadeWhen you started Ice Sculptures Ltd. did people think you were crazy?

They still do.  That doesn’t change.

How would you answer critics who argue that ice sculpting has nothing to do with food?

We’re still able to interact with culinary by doing food displays creating awesome things to go with food really well.  And beverage, too.  We have a lot of displays that are food interactive, food chilling.  We seared tuna on dry ice and made a sushi station.  We’ve made drink glasses, martini glasses, beer mugs, champagne glasses and an ice chandelier.  We made a luge where we did oysters shots – the oyster would slide down and land in a glass.

Ice Brigade premieres Thursday March 3rd at 10PM ET on Food Network.

Follow Stuart via “the Online”

Sip & Chew with Mike and Stu

Add to Google


Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


Subscribe to this blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

ISO 9000 Culinary Arts Certification