For the last 25 years, the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina has hosted the National Gingerbread House Competition. The competition began as a community gathering, and over two decades has become one of the most noteworthy holiday baking events in the country. This year, our family was lucky enough to visit the Omni Grove Park Inn to celebrate the competition and sit down with recently awarded “Top Pastry Chef in the United States,” and Executive Pastry Chef at the Grove Park Inn, Chef John Cook. The purpose of our interview was to learn about the competition as well as Chef Cook’s top tips on building gingerbread houses of our own.
The opportunity to learn tips on building gingerbread houses from one of the best pastry chefs in the nation was great. However, without even intending to, Chef cook served up advice that would inspire the children and me far beyond the four walls of a gingerbread house. He gave us a recipe for success.
If you haven’t visited the Omni Grove Park Inn, you must plan a trip! We love the hotel at any time of the year, but there is something magical about this place during the holidays. The Inn is over a century old, and sits perched in a historic Asheville neighborhood, with panoramic views of the Appalachian mountains. The outside as well as the lobby of the hotel is constructed with massive boulders, and is an amazing example of original Arts and Crafts architecture perfectly preserved in time. During the holidays, the lobby is filled with families sipping hot chocolate from a full-sized cocoa “shop” made entirely of gingerbread. Yep, the shop is made of gingerbread! The visitors sit around the huge Christmas tree, in rocking chairs around the two enormous fireplaces, or out on the heated back portico watching the sunset over the mountains.
If you visit The Grove Park Inn during the holidays, you will literally feel like you are in your very own Hallmark holiday movie. You know you love those movies, we won’t judge.
The hotel has a 40,000 square foot subterranean spa as well as several shops, restaurants and a coffee shop. We met with Chef Cook and Director of Public Relations, Tracey Johnston-Crum outside the coffee shop. When Chef Cook sat down, he explained that he was taking a break from baking thousands of gingerbread cookies with his team for the holiday guests. After learning all about the pastry program at the hotel, I asked Chef Cook what it took to build a great gingerbread house? I explained that for many of us, the idea of creating a gingerbread house from scratch is a huge challenge, especially when baking with kids. With ease, Chef Cook said the following:
How to build a gingerbread house from scratch:
- Establish a Goal: What do you want your gingerbread house to look like?
- Create a Visual Strategy: Create the gingerbread house you want to make out of paper before you begin baking. This will allow you to know what size your walls, roof and other components need to be.
- Be Patient: Bake your gingerbread low and slow. Additionally, once your gingerbread is baked, let it dry out like a Biscotti. Although this requires patience, it’s worth it to ensure your gingerbread are strong enough to build upon.
- Teamwork: Having a good team in place will help you once all of the pieces start coming together.
- Prepare for Mishaps: You don’t want to be defeated if a wall of your gingerbread house collapses. Consider preparing extra pieces, just in case things go off course. Remember, proper preparation prevents poor performance!
- Consider the Long Term: How the gingerbread house will hold up over time? What do you need to do to make sure your creation doesn’t all fall apart over time?
It didn’t take long for me to see the metaphor in all of this! I hope my children remember this recipe for success if they ever decide to start a business or when they are faced with a personal or professional challenge in the future. We whole heartedly accepted Chef Cook’s advice as it relates to baking and as it relates to life in general. Here is how our gingerbread house turned out after following the advice from Chef Cook.
Our Goal: Rainbow Row House
Patience: We used this EASY recipe and baked it low and slow.
Teamwork and a good plan for keeping it together! Our Charleston inspired Gingerbread House.
We had such a blast celebrating the 25th Annual National Gingerbread Competition at The Grove Park Inn. The gingerbread houses were so inspirational, and the beauty and hospitality of the resort was unforgettable. We hope you give building your own gingerbread house a try. I truly believe that by way of these six tips to building (anything) gingerbread houses, you will find it to be a fun family tradition.
Many thanks to Director of Public Relations, Tracey Johnston-Crum, Chef John Cook, and the kind staff of the Omni Grove Park Inn.
Snapshots from the 25th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition:Yum