Carving pumpkins is serious business for Robert Childers.
The Chicagoland native brings his skills to the big leagues Sunday on the season premiere of Food Network’s "Halloween Wars."
"It was an excellent experience," said Childers, 48. "I don’t always get to be part of collaborative efforts; I work with people with a lot of egos usually. This was very equal and very sharing."
"Halloween Wars" is the Food Network’s fall-themed competition show that brings together a pumpkin-carving expert, a cake artist and candy craftsman to compete against four other teams, crafting a creation based on the theme of each episode. One team is eliminated per episode until the winning team is chosen and awarded $50,000.
Childers has yet to see the first episode of this year’s "Halloween Wars," but he’s looking forward to it. The theme for Sunday’s episode is zombie prom.
"Working with Robert was fun, he was a ball of energy and had a great attitude," said Veronique de Groot, one Childerd's teammates on the show.
Childers’ handiwork may be making it onto the national stage this weekend, but he’s no amateur when it comes to carving pumpkins--and many other things. He’s become a master in garde manger --carving everything from fruit to cheese and ice, any cold medium.
He got his start in high school after attending a 4-H class that featured the instructor carving faces into apples and was further inspired when a chef instructor visited his high school and carved a watermelon sculpture.
"I said, 'Wow I want to do that,' and everything he did in that demo within a year I was able to do," Childers said.
An instructor at The Illinois Institute of Art Chicago for the past 13 years, Childers honed his culinary skills as well as his artistic skills. His pumpkin-carvings require the most artistic skill of his work.
"Pumpkins are a lot like clay--you can do similar things you can do in clay with pumpkin," Childers said.
He tries to make his pumpkins look 3-D and realistic by creating natural shadows with a lot of contouring as opposed to the negative space used in traditional jack-o-lanterns.
"If I’m carving something detailed, if it’s a face like a pirate, I can spend 8 to 10 hours on it," Childers said. "If it’s something like Dora the Explorer, I can spend an hour. It all depends on the design."
The pumpkins and other gourds range vastly in size, anywhere from 20 pounds to 500 pounds. One of Childers’ favorite carvings was a 450-pound lion head.
Childers isn’t all work and no play in the fall, though. He carves on average about 150 pumpkins per season, many of them for kids.
"Both of my daughters are in Daises [Girl Scouts] right now, so we ordered about 25 pumpkins to get them started," Childers said.
"Halloween Wars" premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on Food Network.
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