Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gingerbread City 2009: The Greatest Stories Ever Told. Final Photos of Fondant the Yellow Brick Road, Winning Gingerbread Structures, and Highlights from the Holiday Gala at The Grand Del Mar Resort

On December 1, the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County celebrated Gingerbread City 2009, The Greatest Stories Ever Told, at a spectacular holiday Gala for charity featuring celebrity chefs and the largest recognized gingerbread structure competition on the West Coast, showcasing creations by San Diego's leading chefs, artists and designers.  Eighteen talented gingerbread artists donated endless hours in creating their gingerbread masterpieces to be auctioned off in silent and live auctions during the Gala.  Local and celebrity chefs prepared specialty dishes and participated in a Live Chef Auction, offering wine and dinner packages for 8-12 people at their restaurant or the winning bidder's home. The combined culinary talent of the gingerbread artists and chefs benefits over 50,000 San Diegans by raising much needed awareness and funds for the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County.

If you've been following our blog posts for the past two months, you know John and I were invited back for the second year to participate in this competition.  We consider the invitation quite an honor.  If you would like to see our progress photos during our journey down the Yellow Brick Road, please visit our Introduction Post-Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V.  Our Fondant the Yellow Brick Road was purchased by a charming boutique hotel in Carlsbad, West Inn & Suites, and is on display for the holiday season.

Based on this year's theme, The Greatest Stories Ever Told, we chose The Wizard of Oz.  Our structure portrayed the Land of Oz, with the Yellow Brick Road beginning in Munchkinland, surrounded by four Munchkinland houses and Dorothy's tornado-damaged Kansas farmhouse.  The Wicked Witch's Castle is perched on a mountain above Munchkinland.  The Yellow Brick Road continues past a pumpkin patch and a pair of apple-throwing Apple Trees, past the Tin Woodsman's Cabin, and up through the poppy fields to the gates of Emerald City.  Here are some photos of Fondant the Yellow Brick Road.

On our dining room table, the night before delivery

Safe and sound on the table in the Grand Ballroom, The Grand Del Mar Resort.  We had a few scary moments during transport, especially when we went over a poorly marked speedbump inside the Resort.  The Witch's Castle top snapped and almost toppled into the Land of Oz and all of our trees snapped at the base.  Fortunately, we had our "repair kit" and were able to make the necessary repairs.

The apple trees are composed of fondant rolled around pretzels, with Rice Krispies Treats leaves and fondant apples.  John creatively sculpted faces and arms for the trees.  The pair of Cypress trees are also made with pretzels and Rice Krispies Treats.

The fencing along the Yellow Brick Road is a Chinese herb root called Pilose Asiabell root. The entire root is made into powdered form and similar to Ginseng. 

The Emerald City spires are gingerbread, covered with royal icing and 4 lbs. of green rock candy crystals.  The decorative touches and door are made of fondant.

All flowers are fondant or gumpaste, with piped royal icing as grass.

Dorothy's house is gingerbread, with fondant siding and raspberry licorice belt roof tiles.  Neccos form the flagstone courtyard.  A rock candy wall separates the poppy fields from the pumpkin patch and apple trees.  The haystack is shredded wheat and the dirt is zested gingerbread, from sanding the edges of other pieces.

The Yellow Brick Road is fondant, textured with a fondant brick-impression mat.

Munchkinland roofs are baked gingerbread muffins, covered in blue M & Ms.  The bird nest is shredded wheat and the eggs are fondant.

Munchkinland houses are gingerbread hexagons, covered in textured brick and stone fondant, also made with fondant texture mats.  Decorative pieces around the windows and roof are fondant strips made with decorative fondant rollers. Giant sunflowers are fondant with black sesame seeds pressed into the centers.

The Tin Woodsman's Cabin has gingerbread logs, held together with royal icing checking, and a fondant tin roof partially covered with dried red raspberry leaves.  The chimney is adorned with chocolate rocks.  The stack of firewood is Cinnamon sticks and the ground cover is a mixture of dried herbs - thyme, cilantro, parsley and rosemary pine needles.  The pine trees are fondant, shaped with snowflake cookie cutters, and glued together with royal icing.  Coloring is obtained with gel food coloring and luster/petal dust.

The Wicked Witch Castle is gingerbread, covered with individually formed fondant stones and fondant roof tile strips.  The mountain is composed of Rice Krispies Treats, covered in royal icing and marbled fondant.

Unlike the Grove Park Inn's National Gingerbread Competition, in Asheville, N.C., the Epilepsy Foundation's Gingerbread City competition allows the use of structural support and lighting.  The Rules state:  "The Structure should be comprised of mainly gingerbread, with the remaining materials comprised of other edible confectionary materials such as pastillage, gum paste, marzipan, & rolled fondant...Prevent structure collapse!!! The frame (base, reinforcements, etc.) may be made of non-edible materials...Entire structure must be covered in edible materials...Decorations may include lights and small motors, but ALL other decorations must be edible materials."

The Winners

The most amazing and artistically creative structure, in my opinion, was Pinocchio's Journey by the Morse Family.  The photos do not do justice to the intricate detail of this piece.  To me, this structure represents true "gingerbread" art, with visible, beautiful, flawless gingerbread.  I could stand and study this structure for hours, admiring the textures, creative use of sweet and savory materials, characters and miniature pieces inside and outside the main structures.

Three Celebrity Judges chose the winners.  The winner of the Grand category was Cinderella, by Maria and Michael Webster. 

The characters and details were extraordinary - just look at the horse-drawn carriage!

Alice in Wonderland, created by Kristin of Wicked Goodies, tied for Runner Up in the Grand category.  It was whimsical, colorful and loaded with beautiful candy from Kristin's store.  Every square inch of this piece was glazed, giving the effect of ceramic.

The Secret Garden, by Ellie of Ellie's Sugar Art, the other Runner Up in the Grand category, wowed me with so many varieties of perfectly-formed flowers, vines and trees, and delicate pieces of edible wrought iron garden furniture.  I could sure use a few lessons in flower-making from Ellie (although I don't think I'll ever want to make another poppy again to save my life!)

The Magical Aladdin Christmas, by Maria Gonzalez, Veronica Centeno, et al., from San Ysidro Adult School , placed 4th in the Grand category.  Aladdin's lamp was made of stryrofoam, covered in royal icing, then sanded smooth, and covered with edible gold coloring. 

The Hobbit, by Anna Kim, was the winner of the Petite Category.  Anna just graduated from the San Diego Culinary Institute's Baking & Pastry Program.

Additional gingerbread structures captured the stories of Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan, Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Rapunzel, Emily Windsnap Mermaid Tails, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Polar Express.

The Gala

One of the perks awarded to the gingerbread artists is admission to the Gala, where the gingerbread winners are announced, their structures auctioned off, and top executive chefs serve their specialty dishes.  With tickets starting at $250 for Sugarplum Sweetie sponsorship, and rising to $25,000 for a Platinum Partner Holiday Table Sponsorship, it's a well-deserved finale.

This year, the Gala was held in the Ballroom of the stunning The Grand Del Mar Resort..."Serenely nestled amidst Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, The Grand Del Mar seamlessly combines the old-world charm of a Mediterranean estate with the modern luxury of an elegant resort. The result: a destination unparalleled by San Diego hotels and lauded by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the "World's Best Places To Stay". Little wonder, given the sun-drenched climate, stunning natural beauty, championship golf course and irresistible dining – epitomized by Addison, Southern California's only Five-Star and Five Diamond restaurant. And no visit would be complete without an afternoon of pampering at Spa magazine's "Favorite New U.S. Spa."

We arrived early, during the VIP reception, made our way to the Gingerbread Artists' table, and then properly kicked off the evening with Champagne.  John started photographing the gingerbread structures as I perused the Chefs' stations.  I was greeted by my friend, Thierry, chef and owner of Opera Patisseries.  Thierry was proudly standing in front of a table blanketed with Parisian Macarons and Cream Puffs, and offered me a Strawberry Macaron to complement my Champagne.  Throughout the evening, I found myself returning again and again to sample the different flavors.  In addition to Opera's Classic Parisian Macarons in Pistachio, Chocolate, Raspberry, Cappuccino, Pecan Caramel, and Cinnamon, Thierry also served Modern Parisian Macarons in Blackcurrant, Peach, Mango Passion, Praline, Strawberry, and Green Tea Mandarin.  It's too difficult to choose a favorite - they are all incredible.

Eleven other local chefs offered incredible food throughout the evening.  Some of my favorites included Butternut Squash Risotto with Duck Confit and Sage, courtesy of Chef Voitzwinkler, Bertrand's at Mr. A's; Petite Filet Mignon, with Smoky Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes, Cippolini Onions, and a Cabernet Reduction, prepared by Chef Pickell, Café Champagne, Thornton Winery; Seared Dover Scallop with Olive Oil, Crushed Purple Potato, Watercress and Oro Blanco Grapefruit, prepared by Chef Amy DiBiasi of Roseville; and Cocoa Nib Braised Short Ribs with Truffle Mashed Potatoes and Horseradish Alioli, offered by Chef Lopez, The Steakhouse at Azul.

A majority of the gingerbread structures were available for purchase in the Silent Auction, with minimum bids of $1,000.  If not sold, they are donated to schools, hospitals and other businesses to enjoy during the holidays.  The winning structures were auctioned off in the live auction. 

Now that gingerbread season is over in our house, we can go back to dreaming about things other than gingerbread and clean our kitchen and dining room of the supplies and a constant film of sugar and luster dust.  Although we love working on a creative holiday project, for a worthy cause, this challenging endeavor consumes all of our spare time, for two solid months.  The stress and strain on our normal life and relationship can become overwhelming.  Undoubtedly, our gingerbread burnout will fade with time and, come next October, with the announcement of a new theme, we just may catch the gingerbread bug again.  Maybe we'll enter the Petite category next year and create a structure that doesn't require 28 batches of Rice Krispies Treats and 50 lbs. of confectioner's sugar! 

We would like to thank our dear friend, Pammy, who rocked with her fondant rocks, painting of the Wicked Witch's stockings and ruby slippers, and last minute efforts in creating characters.  We simply ran out of time.  Thanks to Brad, The Director, for the Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, nightly check-ins on our progress and his unsolicited words of wisdom.  Last, but not least, a huge thank you to Mom, for all her suggestions, internet research, encouragement and support!  

The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick.
- L. Frank Baum


Rose said...

WOW! Those cities are AMAZING! I am so impressed. You guys did so much work!!!! Everything looks incredible.

Carmen said...

Amazing! Is your house on display somewhere?

Denise said...

Thank you!

Yes, Fondant the Yellow Brick Road has a new home! I received a call from the GM at West Inn & Suites, Carlsbad, and they have it displayed in the lobby.

raelaf said...

wow these are amazing! Thanks for sharing them

Christy said...

Yours is are the other participants. my husband and I won the LA Epilepsy competition 2 years ago I know how much work goes into it...and I am greatly impressed.

Melinda said...

Saw your blog last night. Can't believe you didn't win. It looked fabulous!!!! Look forward to seeing you soon!!!

Ginger said...

Amazing!!! We will definitely go to West Hotel and check it out.

Anonymous said...


I am so very proud of you and your Gingerbread Crew! Your submission is amazing....absolutely breathtaking with every exquisite detail!

Love to all,
Stacy in Sedona

Sandra said... word....WOW!

Would love to visit your art in person. How long will it be available to view?

Charleybrown said...

Gorgeous! Our daycare just finished doing a theme of The Wizard of Oz followed by The Gingerbread Man so your creations are so oz-some!!

gingerhse said...

Will there be a 2010 Gingerbread City?

Denise said...

Gingerhse - Yes, as far as I know, but the Epilepsy Foundation has not yet announced the theme. We've had some inquiries about creating a gingerbread house/structure on commission for private parties, so I'm not sure if we will be participating in the Gingerbread City competition...only time will tell!