The National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville, NC is the Gingerbread Olympics, the crème de la confection.
Evonne Darby is a newcomer to the art of sugar, but she has embraced it with relentless passion. The company’s public relations specialist, who co-owned the Escondido bike shop, is part of a team (which includes a Santa Monica sugar artist) that took the 2021 gingerbread house title on November 22 at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville .
Merry Mischief Bakers’ triumphant “Christmas Around the World” gingerbread carousel was inspired in part by the carousels at Seaport Village and Balboa Park that team members visited and studied last May.
Your winning confectionary will be on display at the Omni Hotel during the Christmas season and next year – a droolable attraction that attracts tourists from near and far. “It’s such a great honor,” says Darby.
From November 28th to January 2nd, all gingerbread creations will be exhibited in the entire inn, which is installing a gingerbread model of the hotel that visitors can walk through in its great hall.
The gingerbread carousel replaces the main winner of the same team last year – a diorama from Santa’s workshop on the day after Christmas.
This confectionery display of tiny ornaments for sale and tiny, mischievous elves is on her way to Darby’s Rancho Bernardo home to retire to her family room.
After retiring from business and co-opening a bike supermarket called Bike Bling Shop, Darby began learning to bake cakes. She had been bitten by the sugar virus 30 years earlier while creating a wedding cake for a friend.
A detail of one of the award winning carousel animals featuring mischievous elves.
(Courtesy Omni Grove Park Inn)
She began to travel the world attending culinary events and taking cake decorating classes from well-known pastry chefs. During the San Diego Cake Show, she asked high-end cake artists Ted Scutti and Adam Starkey to give her a private lesson in their home. And they did.
Soon she began hosting other sugar art teachers and turned her family room into a classroom full of cooking utensils and supplies. Darby’s Sugar Prep Studio was born.
“I originally wanted to make my own birthday cake for my grandchildren,” she says.
Darby joined the competition with Scutti, the captain of the gingerbread team, and Starkey, who are in the day-to-day business. The team also includes Scottsdale, Arizona, restaurant manager Tim Stewart and Sachiko Windbiel, the only one who makes a living doing sugar art.
Their job was to make a 100% edible piece no taller than 24 inches that would tell a story. The judges included Carla Hall of the Food Network and Chef Nicholas Lodge, who teaches at the International Sugar Art Collection School in Georgia.
Darby team members began exchanging ideas in January. Everyone had an assignment and started their work at home. Darby and Windbiel, who live in Santa Monica, joined their three teammates in Phoenix to begin assembly.
Your sugar carousel project has faced technical challenges:
A mold had to be created for the 1,000 1/4 inch wide ginger clay planks that make up the carousel floor.
Darby commissioned acrylic stencils to hold her piping and mini rose designs in place until they could be transported and added to the gingerbread carousel.
A member designed special foam core packaging to wrap the delicate structures and carry hanging parts on the flight to North Carolina.
They had to purchase two additional plane tickets to hold two boxes, one with the top and one with the bottom of the carousel.
One box caught the attention of TSA inspectors, who directed them to remove the carousel sculpture and place it on the x-ray conveyor belt and through the plastic flaps, causing a 45-minute repackaging delay.
The team of five checked 10 suitcases and carried 10 more bags to bring all of the gingerbread components to Asheville.
They rented a house nearby with a large kitchen for three days to complete the assembly.
The humidity caused bakers to find a dehumidifier to keep their gingerbread cookies from absorbing moisture and warping.
Her finished creation included 66 handcrafted sugar sculptures, including 15 animals representing all seven continents and 44 elves from around the world. There were 1,000 waffle paper sprigs.
“I love that each character has a different facial expression,” said Susan Rotante, director of marketing at the Omni Inn. “The level of detail was amazing.” She says the 360 degree design tells the story from all directions.
Windbiel’s two cats, Quincey and Phoebe, were among the figures, and some pieces from their award-winning entry from the previous year were hidden in the roof for good luck charms. Five gingerbread cookies, one for each team member, lined the carousel stairs.
Scutti estimates they spent 2,000 hours on the project, which included 2,500 individual parts and took four months to build. Five full-scale 3D models were built into a foam core prior to construction to ensure the design would work in gingerbread. It took over 100 custom templates to produce the carousel, he says.
“We’re only the second team to have won twice,” says Darby.
The Merry Mischief Bakers received $ 5,000 and a variety of gifts, classes, and pastry tools. “We easily spend a lot more than we make,” says Darby. “We’re not doing this for the money. We do this to improve our skills. “
The bakers will be back next year. You have already reserved the same rental house. It will be the 30th year of the competition and the team is hoping to win the grand prize for the first three years in a row.