Southern Agenda

A Magical Gingerbread Village

Illustration: Tim Bower

Many of us who have tried constructing a gingerbread house have imagined a candy manor and ended up with more of a sugar shack, gloopy icing seeping out of cockeyed cookie walls. But competitors at the Omni Grove Park Inn’s Thirtieth Annual National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville elevate their designs to soaring architectural heights. “It is not fair to call them gingerbread houses,” says the North Carolina chef and James Beard Award nominee Ashleigh Shanti, a judge at this year’s competition. “They are phenomenal. You are essentially walking into this fantasy wonderland where people’s dreams and imaginations have come to life.” Bakers from around the world gather at the grand hotel, lining sweet rooftops with cherries and piping icing along candy-cane doorframes, hoping to strike the perfect balance of creativity and craftsmanship to transform ingredients into artworks. Last year, the Merry Mischief Bakers, a group from Arizona and California, took home the grand prize with their entry, Christmas ’Round the World, an elaborate cookie-and-candy carousel encircled with cheerful fondant elves atop animals representing the seven continents, such as pandas, toucans, and turtles. Shanti and her fellow judges award the winners on November 21, but the entries will remain on view until January 2 for anyone who wants a glimpse—though not a bite—of the sweet inspirations.