Syracuse University Magazine

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Chris Uyehara

Masterful Creations

What motivates a native Hawaiian to spend 12- to 14-hour days competing outdoors in sub-zero temperatures in ice and snow? While winning is a priority, it isn’t the only focus for Chris Uyehara, a culinary specialist in the College of Human Ecology who is an internationally recognized master ice sculptor. “I want to be certain each sculpture is unique, so people remember it,” he says.

Uyehara brings ice to life by skillfully capturing intricate details in his sculptures, which have been seen by thousands of spectators since he began competing internationally—and collecting medals—in 2008. Last January, he won a gold medal at the 26th Annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China. He has earned medals at other prestigious competitions as well, including the Crystal Garden International Ice Carving Competition in Ottawa, and the World Ice Art Championships held annually in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he has his sights set on gold in February 2011. Uyehara pinpoints his interest in ice sculpting to an experience more than 30 years ago at the onset of his professional career. Working as a pastry chef at a hotel in Oahu, Hawaii, he found himself fascinated by the ice sculptures carved for special events and vowed to one day create his own ice masterpieces, just as he’d been doing with pastry and chocolate. 

Chef U, as he is known on campus, grew up learning the fine art of pastry preparation at his family’s bakery. His father, a master baker, was known for excellence in pastry skills and techniques. Consequently, chefs from the neighboring Hawaiian Islands and distances as far as Japan sought to train under Uyehara’s father. From a young age, Uyehara embraced every opportunity to learn from his father and the visiting chefs. “I can remember being 5 years old, standing on a bucket, and helping roll dough,” he says. “I learned from the best.”

Uyehara, who joined Syracuse University in 2006, teaches courses that include culinary arts, professional baking, and restaurant and food service operations to nutrition and hospitality management students. Known for his skills in cake decorating, preparing French pastries and Swiss candies, and chocolate pulling and casting, Uyehara has treated Mikhail Gorbachev, Yogi Berra, and Angela Lansbury to his confections, which have also appeared on such television shows as Murder, She Wrote and Magnum, P.I. Because mentors guided his career path in significant ways, Uyehara is committed to supporting his students, who describe him as someone who will go out of his way to help them succeed. They appreciate his industry experience, ability to explain complex concepts in understandable terms, and his sense of humor. Once summoned to make baklava for the Greek ambassador to the United States, Uyehara recalls the challenge with good-natured humor. “No doubt the ambassador had a fair share of really good baklava in his time,” he says. “But he told me I made some of the best he’s ever had. It was a very high compliment.” 

Uyehara acknowledges his personal philosophy was shaped by his father’s work ethic, and he inspires his students to live by his own example: “Do what you love. Do it the best you can or don’t do it at all because when you sign your name to your work, you should take pride in it.” —Michele J. Barrett

 

Photo by Susan Kahn




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This sculpture of flames with geometric shapes won first place at the 2010 Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China. Pictured with Chris Uyehara is friend and teammate, Stan Kolonko Jr. 

Photos courtesy of Chris Uyehara