Omni Grove Park Inn, an Asheville, North Carolina resort currently celebrating its 100-year anniversary, is home to a sweet holiday tradition.
By Hope S. Philbrick
If you’ve ever baked a sheet full of gingerbread men, then broken a few arms and legs in the process of removing them from the pan, and then figured out how to mask the carnage with frosting and other creative candy solutions—feeling quite smug about your skills—then you’ll either be inspired or humiliated by the gingerbread creations on display at The National Gingerbread competition. Impressive is the word, and let me just say that these photos don’t do the pieces justice. The detail is immense.
“Some folks put 500 hours into their entries,” says Tracey Johnston-Crum, director of public relations and community outreach at The Grove Park Inn, who organized the competition for several years.
The National Gingerbread Competition is a holiday tradition, now in its 21st year, hosted by Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. It elevates confection to fine art. The surprise: The entries are painstakingly crafted by amateurs, not professional pastry chefs.
Despite what’s implied by the competition’s name, designs are not limited to houses. In fact, there are no specific theme requirements (though if a piece is considered offensive it will be excluded). Entries are judged on five criteria: overall appearance, originality and creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency.
“The No. 1 rule is that entries must be 100-percent edible,” says David Mead special events manager, who is organizing the competition for the fifth time this year.
Rules state that designs must not exceed 24 inches at any angle. Except for the base, entries must be made only of edible materials—not even lollypop sticks are permitted. If judges are suspicious about any gravity-defying feats, they may drill in to make sure there’s no plastic or Styrofoam support. And at least 75-percent of the piece must be gingerbread, some of which must be exposed and not buried under icing, chocolate or another decorative element.
“The designs that come in are literally mind blowing,” says Johnston-Crum. “We have had judges take things apart to see how they’re being held together and interview children to be sure they worked on their entries on their own. It’s amazing how long in advance some people will plan and work on their designs and how much they spend on their pieces.” It’s free to enter, but competitors purchase all of their own supplies and transportation to Asheville.
Since some competitors drive across the country with very delicate gingerbread houses, a repair station is available to fix any mishaps that occurred en route.
The panel of 12 judges changes each year but is comprised predominantly of chefs whose backgrounds range from world-renowned sugar craft artists and pastry chefs to cookbook authors, bakers and other experts in related fields—including, last year, a curator for New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Entries are judged in four age categories: adult (18 and over), teen (13-17), youth (9-12) and child (5-8). The majority of entries are typically in the adult category though the number of teen entries follows close behind. Some competitors return year after year.
Competitors are lured by more than a love of sugar and spice: The grand prize in the adult category is $5,000 and a two-night stay on the Club Floor at The Grove Park Inn, dinner and breakfast for two, plus a two-day class at the Nicholas Lodge School in Atlanta, Ga. (The second place winner gets $2,500 plus a stay and spa package; third wins $1,200 plus a stay package.) The top prize for teens is $750, for youth $300, for the child category $100; all top winners in teen and younger categories also win dinner for four. The competitor who travels the furthest distance (based on mileage within the continental U.S.) wins $1,000. The top ten winners in all categories receive a ribbon to commemorate their achievement.
All entries from The National Gingerbread House Competition 2013 are on display from November 20 through January 1. Non-resort guests are invited to view the gingerbread display and expanded holiday décor at The Grove Park Inn at no charge.
Omni Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Avenue
Asheville, NC 28804
The National Gingerbread House Competition is open for public viewing Mondays through Thursdays November 20 through January 1 (excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day) from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Details are subject to change. There is no admission charge but parking fees apply. Reservations are required for groups of eight or more at extension 1281.
To learn more about this year’s entries, visit our Facebook page.
—Photos © HSP Media LLC
Research was conducted while on assignment for Columbia County Magazine, where an article was first published. Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.