Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Highlights from the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County's Gingerbread City 2010 - A Night at the Movies

The Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County recently hosted its 17th Annual Gingerbread City 2010, A Night at the Movies, at The Grand Del Mar Resort. Each year, the gingerbread-design competition and holiday gala attracts talented gingerbread artists, local celebrity chefs, and generous sponsors and patrons, who all join together in support of the mission to ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; and to prevent, control and cure epilepsy through services, education, advocacy and research.

John and I created gingerbread structures for Gingerbread City 2008 (Brownstones & Batali) and 2009 (Fondant the Yellow Brick Road), but our schedules did not allow for such enormous dedication this season. Instead, we volunteered our assistance and photography on the morning of the event, when the gingerbread artists delivered their structures, and at the Holiday Gala. We had the opportunity to visit with some of the winners and tried to capture the exquisite detail of these amazing gingerbread creations.

The Tale of Despereaux Mouse World, from the film, The Tale of Despereaux (2008) was the Grand Prize Winner this year, lovingly created by Melody Morse.

Movie critic, Roger Ebert, describes The Tale of Despereaux as "one of the most beautifully drawn animated films I've seen, rendered in enchanting detail and painterly colors...with a story centering on a big-eared little mouse named Despereaux, a sniffy rat named Roscuro and various other members of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, it is a joy to look at frame by frame..."

Well, Roger, take a look at one of the most beautifully crafted gingerbread masterpieces we've ever seen, rendered in enchanting and edible detail. You could spend the time it takes to watch the movie admiring the artistic beauty and painstaking detail in the the characters, furniture, paintings on the wall, books, antiques, floor tiles, architecture, textures, and techniques.

Melody is passionate about her work. Her motto has always been, you are only limited by your imagination. She is one very talented, imaginative, and amazing woman! Two of her earlier works, gingerbread replicas of San Diego's Villa Montezuma, a 1887 Victorian, and The Martson House, architect Irving Gill's craftsman-style house completed in 1905, are preserved and exhibited at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.

The Tale of Despereaux Mouse World

Melody was kind enough to share a little about her life, background, inspiration, and tricks of the trade. Her passions include collecting mice, sewing items and antiques. She has a curio cabinet at home with many of the items found in this gingerbread structure. The mice, scissors, antique hinges, spools, etc., are all duplicated in gumpaste and hold very special memories.

The structure also represents a tribute to her sister, Linda, who died of cancer several years ago. Melody lived in England at the time, and her collecting of sewing items and small antiques kept them connected through phone calls. The structure is also a reminder of things she has lost, saved, and how small items connect us to our past. When Melody's home burned in the 2003 wildfires, the items in her curio cabinet were some of the things she hurriedly packed before being told to evacuate.

The blue rug is made with softened, dyed, rice noodles, which are then braided. The primary ingredients used in the structure are gingerbread and gumpaste, but Melody loves searching for new materials and tools. She browses Asian markets, yard sales, flea markets and hardware stores, and finds herself touching everything and envisioning how it will add texture and interest to her creations. Some of the interesting materials in this piece include tea leaves, kelp, flower seeds, gourd strips, rice noodles, candy crystals, lemon grass, rice paper, lentils, edible food coloring and luster dust, and royal icing.

The structure contains a combination of human and mouse-sized items, just as in "real mouse" life! It includes books from the movie - another special family memory. Melody's children love antique books, so it was easy to raid their rooms for ideas for special covers. Some of the tiny books have covers of soy wrappers or seaweed.

The cabinets in the structure depict life size cabinets we might have in our home, inhabited by mice of course. Most of the drawers are removable and hold gumpaste goodies inside. There are also various tiny bowls filled with beans, noodles, sunflower seeds, rice and couscous.


Melody told me she doesn't miss the structure when it's gone. It takes her a few days to recuperate with lots of sleep, and several more days to put her craft room back in order. Her reward is in the smiles of the children who recognize what she has created. The reward is boosted when people bid on the structure during the auction at the Gala, and want to take it home. Even if she doesn't win prize money, she knows she has supported a worthy organization by dedicating her heart and soul in a structure that takes her two months and 250 hours to complete! Although she has no real connection to epilepsy, she enjoys the Epilepsy Foundation family and looks forward to challenging herself with a new gingerbread structure each year.


Taking home the honors of Second Place in the Grand category was Kristen Coniaris, with Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Kristin is the chef/owner of Wicked Goodies Extreme Cake Design and she is presently working on her book, Extreme Cake Design.


Santa Takes a Fall, from the film The Santa Clause (1994), was created by last year's winner, Maria Webster. Maria is a master in characters and detail.


Pixie Hollow, from the film Tinker Bell (2008), created by Estella Rocha-Gomez, won First Place in the Miniature category.


Draco, from the film Dragonheart (1996), was exquisitely crafted by Tiffany Morse. Tiffany undoubtedly acquired her attention to detail and innovative use of edible ingredients from her mother, Melody. Tiffany's dragon started with a frame she made of metal, much like a stick figure. She then started baking 1/4 inch of gingerbread on it at a time, until it was quite thick. The piece started out twice as big and then she used a dremel tool and wood carving and exacto knives. The finishing touches were put on using a wood burning tool and luster dust or food coloring mixed with vodka. Draco's wing membranes are composed of corn husks. Tiffany won Second in the Miniature category.

Some of the other gingerbread structures included The Amazing Spider-Man, Porsche at Le Mans, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Night at the Majestic, The Neverending Story, A Hot Night at the Drive-In, Up in the Air, and A Christmas Story: The House on Cleveland Street.

Celebrity Chefs and Creative Cuisine

Local chefs and restaurants also donated time and talent at the Gala, in support of families with epilepsy. Of course, we managed to make the rounds to most of the chef's tables for tastings of their marvelous dishes.

Maine Lobster Bisque Cappuccino
Yuzu Foam, Tapioca Pearls, Fennel Pollen Dust

Executive Chef Bernard Guillas
The Marine Room, La Jolla

Chef Guillas sprinkling Fennel Pollen Dust over the Bisque

Tapioca Pearls infused with Hibiscus, at the bottom of the bisque

Wild Sonora Coast Prawn "Scallop"
Sweet Corn Espuma, White Ponzu Nitro, Lobster Chicharon

Executive Chef Daniel Barron
Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, San Diego

Big Eye Tuna and Sweet Corn Tempura
Chipotle Remoulade

Executive Chef Stephen Window
Executive Sushi Chef Warren Almeda
Roppongi Restaurant and Sushi Bar, La Jolla

Kobe Beef and Shrimp Rice Noodle
Crispy Tofu, Porcini Mushroom Reduction

Executive Chef Chris Idso
Pacifica Del Mar, Del Mar

Four Cheese Ravioli with sauteed Prawns
Roasted Shallot Cream, Sun Dried Tomato Oil

Executive Chef Chris Mirguet
Albert's Restaurant at the San Diego Zoo

Chanterelle Mushroom Flan
Truffle Sauce

Executive Chef Steve Pickell
Cafe Champagne at Thornton Winery, Temecula

Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly
Green Apple, Mustard, Celery

Executive Chef Paul McCabe
Kitchen 1540 at L'Auberge, Del Mar

Seared Venison Tenderloin Medallions
Lebkuchen White Beans, Arugula Sauce

Executive Chef Scott Mickelson
The Grand Del Mar, Del Mar

Holiday Dessert Trio
Warm Chocolate Fudge Cake
Banana Peanut Brittle Ice Cream
Honey Tangerine Tart with Caramelized Orange Sauce

Pastry Chef Melissa Logan
The Grand Del Mar, Del Mar

It was an evening to remember, and we thank the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego for inviting us to be a small part of its outstanding work and dedication to provide support and services to those individuals and families affected by epilepsy.

Happy Holidays!



bunkycooks said...

That is quite the event and the gingerbread...I have never seen anything that amazing! How impressive that someone has the talent and patience to make those. Truly the WOW factor. I am glad you had fun taking all the photos! :)

Kai said...

Wow! What attention to detail, absolutely amazing. I'm exhausted just thinking about all the work that went into these.

Sandra Younger said...

Unbelievable gingerbread!

Carmen said...

Amazing work and the photography appears to do it justice.