ASHEVILLE, N.C. --A Georgia's woman's attempt to lay claim to the best gingerbread house in the country two years running came up one spot short this year at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa.
Hundreds of people from more than 20 states entered the National Gingerbread House Competition at the North Carolina resort. The entries were scrutinized by a panel of 11 judges, with winners from four categories selected at the 19th annual event. Heather Lewis from Austell took home the grand prize in 2010 with her Russian nesting dolls gingerbread creation and hoped to successfully defend the title this year. Lewis would have done just that if not for Ashely Howard. Howard edged out Lewis for the grand prize. Lewis finished second.
“Each year the National Gingerbread House Competition becomes even more competitive with such a wide variety of gingerbread creativity," said Ronald E. Morin, Vice President and Managing Director at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa. "Our judges come prepared to select winners whose overall scores are often separated by only a few points. This year we have contestants entering from as far away as South Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The determination shown by competitors to travel with their gingerbread creations hundreds of miles reflects a significant commitment to this competition.”
Lewis's creation was a collection of ornaments in a decorative trunk. She noted the decorative elements of the ornaments were inspired by trips she has taken over the last year.
"Coming back to compete this year after winning the top prize my first year in was a difficult task," Lewis noted. "(There was) so much pressure to create a piece that would once again awe the judges. For this year, I wanted to challenge myself and to push myself to try new things. I traveled this past year to take classes to learn new techniques and spent a lot of time on the internet researching the latest and greatest in cake decorating."
Entries were judged on overall appearance, originality/creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme. Except for the base, the entries has to be constructed entirely of edible materials. The competition awards more than $12,000 in cash and prizes, with the grand prize winner receiving a $3,000 cash prize, a two night stay at the Grove Park Inn, complimentary access to Grove Park’s world-renowned Spa facilities and breakfast and dinner for two daily.
"I used a construction grade gingerbread that consists of all-purpose flour, spices, light corn syrup, light brown sugar, and a 50/50 mixture of butter and margarine," Lewis said. "My gingerbread shapes were achieved by baking over molds using the following: rimless stainless steel hemisphere molds, wood shapes and dowels and paper mache craft ornaments enforced with aluminum foil. All gingerbread pieces were baked at low temperatures for long periods of time to ensure the spheres would not cave, and then the oven temperature was raised the last quarter of cooking time to brown the outside."
A big reason for Lewis' win last year and second place finish this year can be traced back to the floods that devastated the Atlanta area in 2009.
Lewis had her entry number, inn reservations and a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread design planned for the 2009 competition. She began construction on her creation when on Sept. 21, severe weather hit the Atlanta area. The flood of September 2009 was labeled “epic” as rivers and creeks crested well above flood stage. Information from the National Weather Service called the flood a once in 10,000-year event.
Lewis' home was flooded.
"My house was flooded with about 10 feet of water before noon that day," Lewis told Nelson's News on wsbtv.com.
"We took a boat to the second level of my home that same evening in attempt to save some items from the second story," Lewis said. "I had so little time that morning to grab belongings and important papers. I checked on all of my gingerbread characters, and sure enough they had all melted and distorted due to the extreme moisture and heat. My templates had all curled up."
Lewis said she had about 20 minutes to pack up her valuables. Lewis grabbed her 11 gingerbread books rather than clothes and shoes. Two years and a grand prize and runner-up finish later, it would seem that Lewis made the right choice.
Now this year's winner is no stranger to the competition either. Howard won the competition in 2007 and 2008. She skipped it in 2009, but finished in the top 10 in 2010.
Many of the entries from the National Gingerbread House Competition will be displayed at The Grove Park Inn through Jan. 1, and at The Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville. Community viewing days are Sundays through Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Resort guests who have booked accommodations, dining or Spa treatments may view the displays at any time.
Several of the winning entries will be transported to New York City later in December to be displayed on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Lewis was also followed by HGTV cameras for a show. She will be featured on "All Out American Christmas" on Dec. 23 at 1 p.m.