- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) - Northwood University senior John McGrane is working on his management degree with a minor in marketing.

But if you hand him a sharp paring knife, he can turn an everyday fruit or vegetable into a work of art. McGrane is the owner and operator of Creative Carvings, a catering business that specializes in edible and non-edible fruit and vegetable carvings.

“I’ve always had a kind of culinary background and enjoyed eating well,” he told the Midland Daily News ( https://bit.ly/1Bk5knz ).

Although not classically trained, McGrane can carve fruits and vegetables into words, animals, flowers and just about anything a client can dream up.

“I can usually figure out how to carve just about anything,” he said with a laugh.

McGrane hails from Washington, Michigan, which is just outside of Romeo.

“Yeah, nobody knows where that is,” he said, laughing. “I just tell people it is near Romeo.” As a Northwood student, McGrane calls Midland home for most of the year. This fall, he will be starting his senior year.

McGrane said he caught the fruit carving bug when he was in high school in Romeo. While there, he spent a lot of his time in a culinary program at a nearby tech center.

“I started learning how to do this when I was a freshman in high school,” he said. “My teacher brought in a former student who was a professional food carver.” McGrane liked what he saw, and spent an entire day with the carver, learning as much as he could.

From that tutorial, he practiced on every piece of fruit or vegetable he could get his hands on. The teacher in the culinary programs saw some promise in McGrane, and gave him a chance.

“My teacher was Colleen Spiers. She gave me every opportunity to carve,” he said of the teacher. “I can’t even begin to think about how many hundreds of dollars in melons I hacked up and threw away.”

He said he hadn’t originally planned to stay in the program for long, but as time passed, his interests in his developing talent grew.

“I ended up staying in the class for the full four years of my high school,” he said. During that time, he worked hard on honing his craft.

McGrane said his first creations looked a bit rough, but he kept practicing.

And something must have stuck as McGrane has made a side business, Creative Carvings. He started carving for parties, weddings and graduations before he graduated from high school. Soon after, he brought his work to Midland while attending Northwood.

“I am the president of the Kappa Sigma at Northwood, so I have done some carvings for them,” he said, adding that he has lent his handiwork to some other school events. McGrane also spent time working at Big E’s restaurant in Midland, and has traveled for the eatery to do carvings around the state.

McGrane said Midland has many options for carving materials, and he does his best to source ingredients locally. He said he likes to shop at Meijer and Jack’s Fruit and Meat Market when in Midland, as well as hitting up the downtown farmer’s market when possible. Melons are the easiest things to carve in logos or designs, he said. Many of his customers request specially carved fruit skewers. He even crafted a motorcycle out of melons and other fruit for one event.

As far as tools, McGrane said the most important tool he uses is a sharp paring knife. When the work gets heavier, a large kitchen knife is required. He said he likes to buy good knives, but “you don’t need a huge collection of knives to do this.”?McGrane said depending on the job, he may do all of his prep work at home and deliver the finished project at the site. On some occasions, he may be hired to carve on scene, as well as restock the edible items during the event.

He said not everything he carves is meant to be eaten, like items carved for display only. McGrane said he doesn’t find any particular type of fruit or vegetable too hard to work with.

“There really is nothing too difficult to work with,” he said. “It is always kind of fun to figure out what I can do.”

The carver said it usually takes about a 20-minute phone conversation to get his client’s ideas moving for a presentation, and about a week’s notice to do a party.

As for the educational side of his life, this summer, he hopes to start an internship with a manufacturing company near his hometown, but said he already has some carving work lined up.

He plans to keep up his culinary carving business on the side for the foreseeable future.

“This will keep me in the food industry loop,” he said. “And it is nice to have a fall back (occupation).”

McGrane thought so much of his experiences at the Romeo tech center that he went back for a visit last year, and spent the day teaching the culinary students what he has learned about carving over the years.

“I went back and did a carving demo and some one-on-one with the kids there,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Although his business career may take him away from kitchens later in life, he said he still enjoys the chance to carve.

“I still really enjoy this,” he said. “Anytime I get to do a job I get super excited about it.”

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Information from: Midland Daily News, https://www.ourmidland.com

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