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Carving up a spooky Halloween
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- What is it about pumpkins that provoke us to carve them up with knives? Are they just too round, plump and happy looking? Are we so enamored with our own bulbous heads that we cannot pass a pumpkin without bringing them to life somehow -- even if it means giving them a jagged half-smile and triangle-shaped eyes?
Whatever the motive behind our carving tradition, A jack-o'-lantern perched on a dark stoop is a sure sign of a kindred Halloween spirit. Anyone can carve some holes and call it complete, but creating a pumpkin with personality takes talent, or at least a good plan.
Kitchen Artist Antonio Alberto is not afraid of tackling the largest of orbs. Armed with frightful-looking chisels and knives, he approaches a 526-pound pumpkin and begins stripping large sections of bright orange skin like strings of confetti.
Coaxing toothy grins from pumpkins has been Alberto's vocation for nine years at the Hilton hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, he can also create almost anything out of chocolate, fruits, vegetables and ice.
"I imagine it already," he says as he peels a slowly emerging pumpkin face. Although Alberto needs no diagram or carving kit to create his jack-o'-lantern, he recommends the novice carver design a face on paper before beginning.
Atlanta Hilton Executive Chef Louis Spost says choosing a pumpkin with pedigree is an important starting point.
"I think the main thing is to choose one with no blemishes," he says, "and the flatter the pumpkin side, the easier they are to carve."
Spost advocates choosing a fairly round, smooth pumpkin and using some basic tools to bring your jack-o'-lantern to life.
"A basic v-chisel is useful when you are making lines on the pumpkin's face, and a good sharp kitchen knife that is not too flexible is best to carve the features," he says.
Traditionally, carvers "scalp" their pumpkins by cutting off the top stem portion, but Spost says leaving the top of the pumpkin intact gives you more eyebrow room to work with. Instead, cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin for your candle or other light source.
And if you don't trust your own artistic abilities, Spost says widely available pumpkin carving kits, complete with various patterns and stencils, are good to try.
If a jack-o'-lantern is not your style, consider carving a lovely design on the side of a pumpkin instead.
Alberto uses a small, pointed knife to methodically carve an elaborate sunflower design. First he makes a large circle on the flat side of the pumpkin with his knife. Next, he uses a v-chisel to make a trough around the circle, leaving a silver dollar sized center. Next he uses a delicate kitchen knife to cut out scallop shapes around the center circle. He continues to make larger and larger circles around the center -- each rimmed with consecutively bigger scallop shapes. Finally, using the v-chisel, Alberto makes the "leaves" of the flower by gouging shallow semi-circles on either side of the flower pattern.
The most important thing to remember about carving pumpkins, says Spost, is to have no fear.
"If you ruin it," he says, "make pumpkin pie and start over."
Pumpkin and Baked Almond Soup
Hilton Atlanta & Towers
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