Anchorage food carver Bang-On Roulet is a banquet chef at the Hotel Captain Cook and has won gold medals for her fruit and vegetable sculptures at culinary competitions around the world. She's also the artist behind the eye-popping jack-o'-lantern displays that decorate the downtown hotel during the month of October.
Whether your jack-o'-lantern carving plans are elaborate or minimal, here are Roulet's pro tips for getting the most out of your petrifying pumpkin this Halloween.
Buying a pumpkin
Pick a pumpkin that's heavy -- that means it's still fresh -- and avoid pumpkins with mold around the stem. While many people go for round, symmetrical pumpkins, Roulet likes ones that are "ugly and tall," because she finds they're more expressive.
Carve now, gut later
The pumpkin will keep fresh longer if you wait until just before Halloween to gut it. After carving the face, you will be able to display the pumpkin for up to 10 days with the insides intact as long as you store it in a cool place at night.
When storing the pumpkin, spray it with water and wrap it inside a plastic bag to retain moisture. Right before Halloween, make a hole in the bottom, scoop out the guts and add a candle or battery-powered light to the inside -- all of the details you carved will glow beautifully.
You can find a range of props -- arms, legs, horns, toy knives, spiders and more -- to decorate your jack-o'-lantern, either online or at party supply stores. But you can also use what you have on hand, including yams, carrots or other carved food items, to dress it up.
For the 3-D expressions on her jack-o'-lanterns, Roulet uses clay carving tools. These can be purchased at art supply stores (try Blaine's Art in Anchorage) or online. Roulet also uses a pen knife, paring knife and bird's beak knife (a specialized tool for food carving) for detail work.
A kitchen brush and scouring pad are handy for cleaning and smoothing the surface of your carving.
What a face
There's nothing wrong with an old-fashioned four-hole jack-o'-lantern: two eyes, a nose and a big mouth (extra points if there are some teeth in there). It's a classic.
But if you want to give 3-D jack-o'-lantern sculpting a try, here's what Roulet recommends:
Start by using a large looped tool to scrape the surface layer of pumpkin from the area where you want to place the face.
Carve out the basic lines for the eyebrows, nose and chin. Carve under the eyebrow to define the eyes. Sculpt the form of the nose and create a slope on the nose leading to the tip. Blend the eye sockets into the cheek area.
Use the point of your loop tool to create smile lines that start from the nasal area and extend down toward the mouth. You can go deep on the smile lines, but if the surface starts to feel soft to the touch, do not go any deeper.
Carve a smile and start to shape the features. Remove material to create bags under the eyes. Dig deeper near tear ducts and the outer eye area.
Use a medium-sized loop to refine the contours and creases. Use a small loop tool to sharpen creases and define details.
Using a small round loop, remove the material to create the nostrils. Use a large loop tool to smooth imperfections.
Finish the surface with a scouring pad.
In case of accidental dismemberment
If you make a mistake or cut off more then you'd planned -- don't worry. You can use super glue or a toothpick to add a piece back, or just change your design.
One you have mastered the basics you can move on to bigger challenges. Roulet suggests visiting Halloween stores or watching sci-fi movies for inspiration. It's Halloween, after all -- anything goes!