In The Land Of Gingerbread

In The Land Of Gingerbread

Ah, the wonder of whimsy. Roll that in with the art of baking and a bit of architecture and you have the cornerstone of what is called “The National Gingerbread House Competition.”

Each year The Omni Grove Park Inn has held this competition, now in its 23rd year of existence. And each year it seems the stakes get higher. Yes, there is cash on the table, as well as the coveted titles of rankings and awards.

But getting to the heart of the matter, the stakes get higher through the sheer joy of competition. Each year, people bring it. Whatever can be dreamed into a sugary confection, they will find unique if not ingeniously crafty ways to make it into reality.

I have a personal connection to this annual homage, as in a past life I worked closely to help promote and tell the story. The Travel Channel and an annual trek to Good Morning America are just a few highlights of national notoriety this tradition has seen, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Tracey Johnston- Crum, Director of Public Relations and Community Outreach gives us a peek behind the curtain on how one of the longest running traditions at The Omni Grove Park Inn remains a tried and true family favorite.

(Pictured 2015 Grand Prize- Adult Category Winner: “The Wishing Tree- A Treehouse Filled With The Joy Of Nature” By: Jennifer Elmore & Mike Willauer from Chapel Hill, N.C.)

CSL: Gingerbread, who knew this literal creation of whimsy would take off as it did. Now in its 23rd year, how have you seen it evolve in recent years?

TJC: Each year we see the contestants grow in skill level and passion. The caliber and quality of the entries never fails to impress our judges or guests. The overall artistry and sheer talent encompassed within the competition is unparalleled.

CSL:  Categories and Judging– how was this settled and how do you choose on who to bring in?

TJC :Categories were established by age. Adult 18 and up, Teen 13- 17, Youth 9 – 12, Child 8 and under. Judges have been chosen over the years to best serve the competition with their specific skill set such as, Chef Nicholas Lodge, a world renowned Sugar Artist and Nadine Orenstein, the Curator of the Department of Drawings and Prints of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The judges panel ranges from 9 to 11 experts, many of whom are long standing judges, while others join us for only a year or two. This ever evolving group of judges allows for our competitors to receive a well-rounded perspective from year to year. For 2015 we were honored to have the nutritionist from NBC’s Biggest Loser, a curator for The Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as author of “The Gingerbread Book.”

CSL:  What would you tell someone, an amateur baker for instance, who is toying with the idea of entering the competition.

TJC: This competition truly is for all skill levels. We welcome simple, clean construction as well as ornate, elaborate masterpieces. In the end, each entry is a joy for its creator and for all those lucky enough to see it within the Holiday Display here at The Omni Grove Park Inn.

CSL :  Are there any moments that have stood out in particular that you could tell us about, an “inside” lens, so to speak?

TJC: Two personal favorite moments come to mind. The first was watching a competitor finally take home the Grand Prize after finishing in second place five years running. Her emotions overtook her and she burst into tears as she was awarded the Grand Prize Ribbon. The second notable moment occurred just a few years ago, as a young lady who had entered the competition twelve years in a row (from age 6 to 17) retired from competing when she left for college. We all watched as she grew both as a young woman and a fierce competitor. It was beyond gratifying to have been a character building part her childhood.

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