The first pumpkin Titus Arensberg remembers carving for his daughters was a Dora the Explorer pumpkin for Halloween.
He never expected that little pumpkin would lead him to a new facet of his culinary career.
This year, he’ll probably carve 400 pumpkins by the end of October.
A sous chef at the Granville Inn, Arensberg’s specialty is carving ice, melons and pumpkins. In the last two years, he’s competed in and won eight carving championships in Ohio and surrounding states.
Last weekend, he brought home the peoples’ choice award at Jack Hanna’s Pumpkin Carving Championship.
Although carving and competing will keep him busy until November — just in time for ice carving season — he’s still planning to help his two daughters, ages 10 and 7, get ready for Halloween.
“They’ve already asked me 100 times when we are going to carve ours,” he said. “They have the best pumpkins on the block every year.”
A native of Newark, Arensberg said he always liked to draw and work with his hands. He was active in an architecture program at Newark High School but decided to take a job at the Cherry Valley Lodge washing dishes when he was 19.
He studied culinary arts at Columbus State Community College and thought he wanted to be a traditional chef. But then he got interested in carving.
He started learning to carve ice, taking an apprenticeship with Greg Butauski, a certified master ice carver in Columbus.
“I am a lefty, so people said I was untrainable,” Arensberg said. “They only make right-handed chain saws, and they said I couldn’t do it, but I proved them wrong.”
Arensberg stayed with Butauski and continued to compete with his business Rock on Ice. After learning the rules of ice carving, carving melons and pumpkins came naturally, he said.
“I consider myself a lifelong student,” Arensberg said. “I’m always learning new stuff.”
He ultimately left Cherry Valley Lodge and took a job at the Granville Inn. He’s working in Columbus while the inn’s new owner, Denison University, renovates the property.
When he’s not working, Arensberg spends his weekends traveling for competitions. Sometimes he’s judged on speed; other times he has to carve and set up large pumpkin displays.
“Some people draw their designs, but most of the time, I just start. I’ll figure it out as it comes,” he said.
Some of the pumpkins he works with can be several hundred pounds. His architecture background comes in handy sometimes when he has to build structures to support his creations.
He carries a large box of carving equipment, including clay tools, saws and kitchen utensils. But he said his favorite tool is still his $3 paring knife.
Over the years, he’s carved alongside professional carvers and Food Network stars, but his favorite audience is groups of kids.
“Kids are definitely my biggest fans,” he said. “If the kids don’t see where I’m going (with my design), I start to worry.”
It can be stressful traveling so often, but Arensberg said he enjoys the opportunity to be creative.
“I just love creating. I get to start out with two pumpkins and end up with something like this,” he said, pointing to a recent carving he did of a zombie rabbit. “I always try to have fun. I love to compete, but I still have to be able to laugh it off when things don’t work out.”
Although it’s nice to bring home medals and prizes, the support of his daughters and his friends in Newark is the best prize, Arensberg said.
“Everyone has asked why I don’t go to a bigger city,” he said. “This is where I’m from, and it means more to me to have a reputation here.”
Want to see Arensberg’s pumpkins?
To see some of Arensberg work, including a carving of the Minions from “Despicable Me,” visit Pigeon Roost Farm, 4413 National Rodd SW, Hebron, this weekend. The farm is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.