Competition was stiff at the second annual Hudson Valley Gingerbread Competition at Mohonk Mountain house last Sunday. According to Lauren Peress, director of marketing at the Mohonk Mountain House, there were 47 entries in the inaugural contest in 2016. But this year, “We had 73 final projects make it to the mountaintop on a very, very, snowy day,” said Alex Sherwood, director of hotel operations, as he warmed up the crowd in the West Dining Room for the announcements of the winners.
The team of judges — among them Kingston mayor Steve Noble, WDST’s Ike Phillips and a list of culinary luminaries who included New World Home Cooking’s Ric Orlando and Rose Levy Beranbaum, the “Diva of Desserts” — had their work cut out for them. Moving from table to table meant finding a new favorite every few yards.
There were gingerbread versions of historic buildings, from Bannerman’s Castle to the Eiffel Tower to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum — not to mention at least three Skytop Towers, two Mohonk Skating Pavilions and a Mohonk Gatehouse. Huguenot Street was represented by both the New Paltz Reformed Church and the Old French Church. There were scenes from fairytales, books, movies and television shows. There were woodland dioramas, a Village of Angels, a ski slope, a penguin party, a Viking ship, a desert Nativity scene, a Swiss cuckoo clock. In other words, creativity ran rampant.
Mohonk visitors were permitted to vote for a Viewers’ Choice Award. The runaway popular favorite, with 132 out of 937 votes cast, was Ginger Harbor, Vacationland, USA, entered by Kevin and Jessica Brunk. This elaborate construction was a Downeast Maine hideaway, including a lighthouse, set atop a craggy seaside cliff, with lobster traps scattered about the shoreline.
Judged categories included Adult, Junior (ages 10 to 17) and Mohonk Employees, Friends and Family. The First-Place winner in the Adult category was Matt Maley, a local artist recently profiled in the New Paltz Times for his Little Donny Trump series of satirical cartoon books. “This is the first gingerbread I’ve ever worked with,” Maley said of Flower Tower, his elaborate 203-piece confection depicting the tallest gazebo in the Mohonk gardens. “It has a load-bearing candy cane up the middle. The trick was doing the spiral staircase.”
Second Place in the Adult category went to Lori Pizzoli for Bah Humbug, an exquisite diorama of Ebenezer Scrooge working late in his office on Christmas Eve, from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Third Place was awarded to George and Maryanne Muscolino for Winter Is Coming, their tribute to Game of Thrones. It depicted a magnificent dragon — an undead one, as fans of the hit TV show knew by its ice-blue eyes — perched atop the Wall, with the Iron Throne in the foreground and banners bearing the sigils of the Great Houses of Westeros hung about all four sides.
In the Junior category, Alexandra Khanlian and Sabrina Sam’s Winter Wonderland took First Place: a delicately decorated classic Victorian house that, according to a placard, was “made in less than one consecutive 24-hour period.” Second Place went to Chloe Hunderfund-Faoro for The Frozen Wilds, in which a small red-haired girl armed with a bow faced down an enormous robotic dinosaur in a scene from the videogame Zero Dawn. In Third Place was Brooke Long’s Cantering Cook/Gingerbread Horse Farm, which was ingeniously thatched with shredded wheat.
Predictably, Mohonk scenes figured prominently in the entries in the Employee category, although only one of those took a prize. First Place went to an eye-poppingly colorful, onion-domed Russian Cathedral submitted by Nina Boyd, Mary Lazarides and Jenice Sesti. Second Place was awarded to Emily McNamara, Lauren Peress, Kwan Man Cheng, Ben Fishman, Kevin Leipheimer and Alee Desiderio for Christmas Time in the City. This gingerbread tribute to Manhattan, dressed up in its holiday finest, centered on Rockefeller Center with its skating rink, giant Christmas tree and Radio City marquee, but also featured the Statue of Liberty and a Santa-hatted King Kong perched atop the Empire State Building. The Third-Place winner was a fine rendition of the Skating Pavilion at Mohonk, complete with melted-sugar-glazed Olympic-sized rink, created by Jennifer Yess.