Making The Perfect Ice Cube At Pier 38

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - May 11, 2011
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Jim Cook: the ice man cometh. Jo McGarry photo

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes in the company of Jim cook to realize he’s a man who sees past problems in his search for solutions.

Tired of the inefficiency of an ice-making system built to service the fishing industry, he built an ice plant at Honolulu Harbor more than 20 years ago that still produces 160 tons of boat ice a day.

“The wait for ice in those days could be up to a week,” he says. “That didn’t cut it for us.”

But ice for fishing and the ice you might put in your favorite glass of bourbon are completely different - hence cook’s mission these past few years to create a state-of-the-art ice plant and the world’s most perfect ice cube. Drive past Pier 38 and you’ll catch a glimpse of the new, 32,000-square-foot plant that sits close to Nico’s as the newest addition to Honolulu Fishing Village. This Hawaiian Ice facility is the world’s most modern ice plant, producing 300 tons of ice a day.

“We wanted to build a plant that would be modern and energy efficient,” explains cook, “and at the same time we wanted to be able to get ice to our customers in perfect condition.”

But making the perfect ice cube is not as easy as it may sound.

The ice that forms in our home freezers is cloudy. That’s because ice isn’t made entirely from “pure” water, but instead from water containing a host of minerals known as TDS (totally dissolved solids). When you and I make ice cubes, those TDS result in a white/clouded cube, and while that might not be something causing you to lose sleep, for cook and his Hawaiian Ice partners, the pursuit of ice cube perfection is just another example of how they like to get things right.

“an ice plant is really like a food-production plant,” says cook as we walk through ice-cold, high-tech rooms where ice cubes slip from 19-foot tubes and begin their journey through a highly controlled environment. “We want to make the best possible product.”

So, first they remove the solids from the water, and then the ice is dried to prevent it from sticking and breaking.

once formed, the ice balls have a hole in the middle that allows them to slip easily down warmed tubes, leaving mineral deposits behind to be recycled. Next, the clear ice marbles are blasted with air on a 50-foot-long drying belt before being propelled into two containers that hold 140 tons of ice. carefully tossed by giant rakes, the ice balls are then drawn out of the machine and slowly tumbled to remove any pieces that may have been damaged, and dried again.

Finally, and at a rate of 1,200 pounds a minute, the ice is bagged by machines and lifted onto carts to await the 4 a.m. arrival of 16 Hawaiian Ice refrigerated trucks that head into the predawn darkness each morning to supply retailers and restaurants around the island.

The entire operation is a model of efficiency and fascinating to observe. and while I never imagined I’d devote an entire column to frozen water, I have to admit to being completely converted to the purity - and beauty - of Hawaiian Ice.

“People are a lot more sophisticated about their food and wine choices nowadays,” say cook. “Ice has evolved, too.”

Happy eating!

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