Sweet holiday competition

Posted 12/23/19

It all began in 1992 when a small group of gingerbread houses were built by community members in 1992 as another way to celebrate the holiday season. There were no plans to continue the competition …

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Sweet holiday competition


It all began in 1992 when a small group of gingerbread houses were built by community members in 1992 as another way to celebrate the holiday season. There were no plans to continue the competition the following year.

There was no possible way to know that more than two decades later, The Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition™ in Asheville, N.C., would be one of the nation's most celebrated and competitive holiday events.

I’m a frequently visitor to Asheville because one of my best friends, Kathy Ziprik, makes her home just outside the community. She lives in Henderson County in a quiet subdivision. Looking out her sunroom windows or when standing in the backyard while her four dogs run and play, I can see the mountains.

When I visit, Kathy makes sure I never miss what’s going on in the communities that surround Asheville. We visit Black Mountain where the Manual Weavers are located. There are several wonderful boutiques and gift shops throughout the area including in Brevard and Hendersonville. I’ve visited the Biltmore Estate on several occasions — including the great gift shops there and always bring back bottles of their dressings.

For those who have never been to Asheville, it’s a beautiful and booming place. I’m hoping the growth doesn’t change its charm and what it has to offer. That remains to be seen. As we drove on Interstate 26 and Route 40 on our days out, there were hundreds of trees being taken out because the interstate and Route 40 are expanding.

Don and I were at the Grove Park Inn after our move to the South where he played golf with his best friend from childhood, Mike Henry. It is a resort in every sense of the word with great on-site shopping, restaurants, a pool and a spa.

For my 65th birthday this year, Kathy planned a special outing for us. We visited the historic Grove Park Inn to see the winners and all the entries in the 27th annual gingerbread house competition. We made a day of it with another friend, Cheryl Reisman.

There are four categories in the competition — adult, teen, youth and child. A grand prize winner is named as well as first, second and third in each of the categories. The top 10 works are all exhibited together while the remaining entries are each displayed throughout the halls of the inn.

This is the 27th year for the event and it draws visitors from everywhere — by the bus full.

The gingerbread display has grown in more than just entries. It has become a true family holiday tradition. From the very young to the young at heart, the reaction to this magical experience is the same — one of wonder, awe and delight.

This year there were 226 edible structures from throughout the United States and Canada.

There are some rules: Kids can't sculpt with melted sugar — it's too dangerous — but teen and adult competitors can. And new this year in the rule book: Each entry may have no more than 40 percent mechanically

produced parts, including machine designed, 3D printed and laser cut components.

As the event grew, so did the caliber of judges and competitors. The panel of judges represents nationally renowned food, arts and media professionals. The level of competition has attracted the highest quality of design, artistry and pastry expertise. The competition has merited broadcast coverage by ABC's Good Morning America, the Travel Channel and the Food Network.

The judges take their work seriously, carefully giving every entry the once over — including using small flashlights to see if there are any flaws in the structure.

Competitors use power tools, moving mechanical parts, melted sugar and a whole lot of creativity to cook up some truly epic designs.

While the contest requires every piece of the entry must be edible, as one teenager entrant noted, "It has to be 100 percent edible, but 100 percent edible doesn’t mean it tastes good."

Grier Rubeling, from Cary, N. C., prefers power tools when creating her masterpiece. She owns a consulting firm for financial advisers and also has a DIY blog where she showcases her woodworking skills and shares recipes for edible plastic and glue.

The market for construction-grade gingerbread is so small as to be relatively nonexistent, which helps breed innovation among the competitive gingerbread circuit.

"If I were to create a boat, I could go to Lowe's and buy what I need, but in this case I have to create my building materials myself," Rubeling said. 

That's in part because many of these edible materials aren't meant to be eaten at all, like the unappetizing-sounding gingerbread dead dough and oven plywood.  Those recipes were made to beat humidity, the chief enemy of gingerbread houses, as well as gravity. It takes a scientific mind to battle those forces of nature.

This year’s winner was “The Watering Hole,” made by Gail Oliver from Johnson City, Tenn. While she had entered several times before and even placed in the top 10, this was her first win. The entry — carefully placed behind glass in a place of honor — includes edible animals including an alligator swinging in a hammock.

In the teen competition, the winner — for the sixth consecutive year — was the students in the German program at Courtland High School in Spotsylvania, Va.

One of my favorites was in the youth category for artists ages 9-12. It was created by Anderson Adams of Raleigh, N.C. The design is Adams’ interpretation of Joseph and the coat of many colors, standing alongside a blonde and familiar looking — I think it’s Dolly Parton — seated next to a guitar. That’s my interpretation, of course, but Parton fans will remember she has a song “The Coat of Many Colors.”

The gingerbread creations are on display through Jan. 4. If visiting anywhere close to Asheville, it’s certainly worth the trip.

One last note. Since its inception in 2013, the Omni Grove Park Inn has contributed more than $430,000 to not-for-profit partners in Western North Carolina through the Holiday Parking Program. A minimum $25 parking charge is in effect for all drive-on guests. Half of each parking charge collected during holiday season is returned to the community in support of various local not-for-profits.