Those of you out in the land of food fanatics have undoubtedly, at some point, seen one or two of those cake challenge shows on Food Network, right? The ones that make you a little tense as you see these huge creations made before your eyes? In the same vein as that network's challenges, every year you see a feature about The National Gingerbread Competition, which takes place in Asheville at The Grove Park Inn. I've marveled at it many times and it always manages to get me in the holiday spirit when I see it – even if I see a rerun in April or so! I don't have television at home (don't judge, people, don't judge) but I've been in front of one enough to know that when I got the chance to attend the competition with Helen from Tartelette, I didn't even ask when or how. I just said yes.
As grand as the Grove Park Inn is as a hotel, that same attitude comes through in the competition. People from all across the country – 20 states were represented – work for months and months on their creations. This year was the 17th annual competition and around 200 gingerbread houses – from children and adults – were entered to win in their respective category. Let me tell you…it's quite something to see. When I opened the door of the Grand Ballroom at GPI, the overwhelming wafting smell of gingerbread almost knocked me over – in a good way. I can't imagine being a judge and having to focus in that large room smelling delicious gingerbread all day!
The panel of judges included Helen, internationally known sugar artist and instructor Nicholas Lodge, cake designer to the stars and author of FIVE cookbooks Colette Peters, South Dakota-based pastry chef and author of The Gingerbread Book Steven Stellingwerf, and 6 others from various art and pastry fields. Judging began early in the morning and culminated at 5:30 pm with the announcement of the winners. Each house was carefully scrutinized and judged on appearance, originality, precision, difficulty and continuity of theme. I saw how thorough the judging was and how much time the judges put into giving proper consideration to each house. Several of them have been judging the competition for many years – they know what they're looking for: great execution and originality while still being true to the notion of a "gingerbread house".
There were so many fabulous creations at the show, it was hard for me to focus on just one or two. While I understand the judges favoring really elaborate, structurally incredible houses…I have a really soft spot in my heart for the ones loaded up with gumdrops and candy canes. That's the kind of gingerbread house *I* remember as a kid and the colors & whimsy still make me happy as an adult. I think it's also inspired me to try and make my own this year – something I've never done!
Three top winners in each age bracket were chosen and given a prize. However, in the end, only one gingerbread house could be named Grand Prize winner. This year, the distinction went to Jodie Stowe of Polkville, NC. Her birdcage design was pretty spectacular – the construction and the details in it were remarkable. For her efforts, she won $3,000, a 2 night stay at Grove Park Inn, and other prizes. Most importantly, she won bragging rights!