By Mary Frost
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — An uncanny likeness of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse — with the addition of an eerie orange glow — emerged from the X-acto knife held by “pumpkin carver to the stars,” Hugh McMahon. The pumpkin was destined for a tribute to Lagasse at the New York City Food & Wine Festival at the Chelsea Market.
“I’ve been on his program four or five times,” McMahon nonchalantly told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It gets very busy this time of year — the orders are pouring in. Last year I carved for Heidi Klum’s Halloween party. This year it’s Red Bull and something for the Nets. They’re talking about a logo.”
McMahon will be carving constantly through Halloween, including putting on demos for budding carvers. “Last night I did a pumpkin-carving demo for the kids at the Ronald McDonald House,” he said. He also demonstrated his skills at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rheinbeck on Oct. 15 and 16.
McMahon — who carves a variety of fruits and vegetables including watermelons — has etched the likeness of presidents on pumpkins for the White House, and his works have appeared in magazines like People and Vogue. He has also been featured on “The Martha Stewart Show,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and other TV shows.
As Halloween approaches, “I get up at 6, prepare, and carve all day,” he said. While his commissions used to include single pumpkins, he aims for events now. “For one party I’m carving 26 pumpkins. It’s a private party in a barn with a Halloween theme,” he said.
He recently made another exception to his one-pumpkin rule to carve an engagement watermelon for a male client bearing the words, “Will you marry me?”
“She said yes,” he added.
Night of the Pumpkinheads
In McMahon’s latest project, he has carved dozens of whimsical characters for the book Night of the Pumpkinheads, written by children’s storyteller Michael J. Rosen (published by Penguin Group). Though written with children in mind, carved-fruit aficionados of all ages will ooh and ahh at McMahon’s beautifully elaborate carvings of animals, dinosaurs, skeletons, killer bees and giant eyeballs.
“I got a call from the writer, who asked if I’d like to participate,” he said. “He had some ideas, and we collaborated on concepts based on what I could carve.” Always understated, McMahon allowed that he did like some of the carvings. “I showed it to the kids at Ronald McDonald House; the kids liked it quite a bit. They were actually very excited. So I donated it to the Ronald McDonald library.
“At a signing in Ohio I sold 150 books,” he added. “Lots of grandparents are buying it for their grandkids.” Brooklynites can pick up a copy at Bookcourt at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill, or buy it online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
McMahon includes fully illustrated instructions for carving his trademark 3-D “scaredy-cat” jack-o’-lantern at the end of the book, along with a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds.
To see more of McMahon’s carvings, visit www.gochelsea.com/pumpkins.