OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Fridoon “Frank” Kalabi prefers Black Diamonds straight from Rush Springs, big ones that don’t roll around. With a gem cutter’s eye he chooses where he’ll go.Then he sets to work.
“People always think I’m going to carve them a basket,” says Kalabi as he begins to scratch away the green rind of a ripe melon. “They don’t know exactly what I’m doing.”Frank carved his first watermelon more than thirty years ago.An immigrant from Iran, Frank started as a dish washer at a country club in Oklahoma City.He worked his way up and got his chance when the head chef asked him for something creative.
Frank carved a polo player into a watermelon. His work was a hit and more work followed.“I carved six or seven watermelons that day,” he recalls.“Have you ever carved on other things like pumpkins?” we ask.
“Oh yeah,” he replies. “I do that too.”Health problems kept him from steady work in the past few years but Frank still works regular magic with his set of peelers, zesters, and small, paring knives.Most of his designs come from tattoo parlors.With us, he carves a dragon through dark skin to reveal the white rind.The colors of his palette are green, white, and red or yellow. The art is pure summer party. Kalabi says, “When I see a smile on someone’s face, that’s where I get my satisfaction. I put pride in my work.” The families swimming at his apartment complex pool will get the benefit of his work on this July afternoon. Frank says he’s just warming up, getting his hands in shape for better work to come, when the watermelons are bigger, darker, and redder, when the talent he’s displayed for more than three decades now will be ready to bear fruit. Frank started his career at the Quail Creek Country Club in 1982. He’s worked as a chef in resorts and clubs all over the country since then.