Peter Slavin

Ice sculptor Peter Slavin will be honored at this year’s Restaurant Gala.

Bill Gross

Before he created lavish ice sculptures for the wedding of Bill and Melinda Gates, before he appeared on shows such as “Rachael Ray” and “David Letterman,” and long before he traveled the world winning ice-sculpting competitions, Peter Slavin sculpted his very first block of ice at Atlantic Cape Community College’s Academy of Culinary Arts.

“We either did a basket or a swan,” says Slavin, now a Philadelphia-based performance ice carver and the founder of Fear No Ice. “I was 19 or so. They introduced me to a 300-pound block of ice and all the tools. It’s a great feeling to be able to be the master of something.”

Slavin, who went on to found the biggest ice sculpting company in the country, says he was inspired by his early days as a student at the Academy of Culinary Arts, where he also honed his cooking skills, leading to many successful years in the restaurant industry.

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“It sparked a fire inside my chest with cooking and traveling,” Slavin says. “We do big stuff. I’m 50 years old, I have five employees and a couple of apprentices. That’s a great feeling.”

Slavin, along with Anthony Catanoso and Steel Pier Associates, will be honored for their achievements at the 31st annual Atlantic Cape Community College Restaurant Gala, taking place 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 13, at Bally’s Atlantic City.

The Restaurant Gala is South Jersey’s premier fundraising event and dining extravaganza. This year’s 2014 theme — “The Greatest Gala on Earth” — will feature a vintage carnival atmosphere to accompany the foodie feast.

The annual event showcases food by serving thousands of hors d’oeuvres prepared by students from the Academy of Culinary Arts and dishes from a who’s who of Atlantic City chefs and restaurateurs. Culinary specialties are served up by 40 of the region’s best restaurants. An elegant dessert reception will complete the night’s events.

Each year hundreds of guests attend the gala, which also features live entertainment. More than 800 attendees are expected this year, making this event the ultimate audition for ambitious culinary students.

The gala is much more than a typical fundraiser, with scholarship funds helping students such as Andrew Johnson, 24, to complete his education. Since 1984, the gala has raised $3 million for scholarships at the Academy of Culinary Arts and Atlantic Cape Foundation operations.

“Taking out loans, for me, is difficult,” says Johnson, a two-time scholarship recipient from Pittsgrove Township, Salem County, and a current culinary student. “Receiving this aid made it that much easier when it came to applying for financial aid. It saved me that extra little bit.”

Johnson, who hopes to someday own his own restaurant, is excited to also be working the gala, which he calls the ultimate networking event for a culinary student – and his big chance to show off his skills.

“It’s not just putting stuff on a plate,” Johnson says. “It’s everything encompassing the plate itself, before you even taste it.”

In addition to being honored at the gala, Slavin will also be performing with members of Fear No Ice, sculpting a massive block of ice 6 feet high and 6 feet wide live in front of the crowd.

“We’re like the Blue Man Group with ice,” Slavin says, laughing. “Everything is done to music. We wear all white, like we just came out of Antarctica, and we’ll have 1,800 pounds of ice that we’ll sculpt in front of everybody. It’s somewhat choreographed, but a lot of improv goes on, too.”

Slavin did not reveal the final product, only saying it will be “circus-themed” to match the gala theme. He promises a final product that will impress those from his alma mater.

“When you’re an artist … you fear no art, you want to push the limits, constantly,” Slavin says. “As long as you’re not afraid of your medium, you always want to take it to the next level.”

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