Jon Magapan has only been in Estevan for a little more than three years, but he has already garnered acclaimed for his culinary carving capabilities.
Magapan immigrated to Estevan from the Philippines in August of 2010 to accept a job working for Houston Pizza. He brought lots of experience with him, as he spent seven years working in the food industry in his native country, and more than two years as a kitchen worker and a food and ice artist on cruise lines.
He says that he has always been interested in various forms of art.
"When I was in elementary school, I started to paint and draw some cars," said Magapan.
The introduction to carvings and sculptures came at an early age, too, thanks to a substance that children have experimented with around the world.
"When I was small, I used to play with Play-Doh, and I would make little cars," he recalled.
Magapan continued with different forms of creative expression through high school, but the restaurant industry was calling. He spent two years working as a cook and five more as a kitchen supervisor in the Philippines.
Once he had sufficient experience, Magapan decided he wanted to work on the cruise ships. They paid more than his restaurant job, and it gave him a chance to see the world.
Magapan was working in the ship's kitchen when he saw the ship's culinary artist carving fruits, vegetables and ice.
"I asked my supervisor if I could do some art, as I'm interested in doing those things," said Magapan. "He said that would be fine. I tried carving watermelon."
Initially, he could slice animal figures into the fruit. Then he started to carve faces and three-dimensional objects into the food.
His skills grew to the point where he could carve ice.
"We would display all of our carvings of watermelons, vegetables and ice," said Magapan. "I had to carve 18 300-pound blocks of ice in five days."
Magapan said he would also carve 95 watermelons a week for eight months.
He was given the choice to carve what he wanted, and he often opted for sea creatures.
"I can carve a mermaid … an eagle catching a salmon, a marlin, a sailfish, dolphins, or a sea horse," said Magapan.
For the final Halloween that he spent working on a cruise ship, Magapan carved the characters from the Wizard of Oz into a pumpkin.
Working with ice can be challenging, he said, since it melts quickly, especially in the warmer climates that are frequented by cruise ships.
"In Miami, if you're doing an ice-carving demonstration, the ice will melt very fast, so you have about 20 minutes to do one block of ice," said Magapan.
Since coming to Canada, Magapan said he doesn't have the time or the tools to carve the elaborate designs that he completed on the cruise ships. He balances two jobs with the commitments to his family.
But he still does smaller, easier carvings which, by most people's standards, are still very impressive.
He won top prize in the over-16 age group category at the Estevan Chamber of Commerce's first-ever pumpkin carving contest last year. His submission was so detailed that the local chamber asked him to carve numerous artificial pumpkins for this year's contest.
It is hoped that Magapan will slice more pumpkins annually, which will create an impressive collection for the local chamber to display.
He has also carved food for special occasions at Houston Pizza's Sunday buffets. Those have yielded numerous compliments and requests from customers to create something for them.
Magapan said his designs could be even better if he was equipped with the tools that he had on the cruise ship.
"I just use a paring knife and a hook," he said. "I sandpaper the paring knife … so it will bend and turn in a corner."
The cruise line supplied him with a V-shaped knife to help with the detailing on the edges, a U-shaped knife and other tools that had razor-sharp edges. One of the tools had a hook design that made it easier to carve an ear into a pumpkin or a watermelon.
Magapan is happy to be in Saskatchewan, and the province has rubbed off on him. In honour of a recent game for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Magapan carved a Rider-themed watermelon.
He also helps his children, ages eight and five, whenever they need assistance with an art project, passing on his love of art to future generations.