As the holidays approach, many sweet visions turn not to sugar plums, but to gingerbread. For the entrants in the National Gingerbread Competition at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, those visions have been dancing in their heads for months now. 2013 National Gingerbread Competition winner — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Omni Grove Park Inn
This year, more than 150 entrants in the National Gingerbread Competition, held for 21 years running, came from all over the U.S.—as far away as California. All spent between 250 and 500 hours crafting elaborate gingerbread creations that weren’t necessarily houses. In fact, the 2013 Grand Prize winner, Kimberly Thalman, made a pair of bamboo-munching panda bears out of gingerbread. Thalman, who transported her entry very carefully in her van from Franklin, Wisconsin, won a cash prize of $5,000 for her efforts. Additional prizes netted her another $2,500 worth of loot, including a two-night stay on the Club Floor of the Grove Park Inn.
Nowhere do the rules state that entries have to be buildings. In fact, except for being 75% gingerbread and constructed completely out of edible materials (except for the base), the sky is the limit as far as theme goes—as the 2013 contestants demonstrate. A Willy Wonka-esque factory turns out funnels full of elaborately detailed miniscule toys; a gingerbread Ferris wheel takes tiny elves for a ride; Mrs. Claus waits for Santa in a red gingerbread convertible. These are just a few of the more imaginative examples, but there are plenty of gingerbread houses, too, as well as castles and old world village scenes.
A panel of nine judges, including pastry chefs, sugar artists and art museum curators, evaluate the entries on overall appearance, originality/creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme. There are four categories for all ages, from children (5 to 8 years old) to adults. Contestants compete for more than $22,000 in cash and prizes. Now that’s some pricey gingerbread!
The winning gingerbread pandas, and all the other entries, are displayed in the Omni Grove Park Inn from November 20 to January 2. The grand prize-winning entry and other selected winners will be removed from the display during the third week of December, so they can travel to New York City to appear on Good Morning America. See the top ten winners for each category on the lobby level, while the remaining entries decorate the seventh floor of the Vanderbilt Wing. It’s well worth a visit to the hotel over the holidays to get view these whimsical masterpieces, which transform the hotel’s halls into a holiday wonderland that’s good enough to eat.
Want more winter fun in Asheville? Head over to the Biltmore Estate for holiday finery and wine tastings.