Asheville, NC -- After having to go virtual in 2020, the National Gingerbread House Competition was back in person this year at the Omni Grove Park Inn. What began as a simple display in 1992 by a group of North Carolina locals has grown into the largest gingerbread house competition in the world. As the Grove Parks Susan Rotante puts it, "gingerbread is more than just a competition, it's a community." And they really do build an impressive environment to host this community. As soon as you step into the great hall, dubbed North Carolina's Great Living Room, you are met by a life-sized one-story tall gingerbread house. "In 2020 We had a virtual competition so what's really exciting about 2021 is that for the first time in two years -- we're so thrilled to bring the competitors back in person this year," said Rotante.
This year saw more than 120 entries vying for the opportunity to win $25,000 in prizes in myriad categories based on the age of the contestants. Contestants flew in from all over to compete, with the furthest coming all the way from Guatemala. The pieces are judged based on their creativity, difficulty, overall appearance, and theme. And each entry is required to be at least 75 percent gingerbread and 100 percent edible. The judges will drill into the houses if they suspect they aren't all gingerbread.
The event brings in a star-studded list of celebrity chefs and artists to judge the competition, including chef Carla Hall, formerly of ABC's "The Chew." "One of the things that I think of that makes this competition unique is that you start with the children and you go all the way up to the adults. And I've only been here four years but I've seen the progression of people going from one category to the next so I can actually see their progress which I love," said Hall.
"First we go and we pick the top 10 in each of the categories: children, youth, teen, and adult. And then from the top 10, then we start looking in more detail so we break up the flashlight you start looking at what's going on in each piece," said judge Nadine Orenstein, curator of the department of drawings and prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For Grier Rubeling of Cary, NC, the competition is much more than the winning prize money. "I've found a community here that I didn't know existed before." Rubeling took second place in the adult category this year for her piece Gingerbread Nutcrackers, which showcases 13 unique edible nutcrackers built into one sculpture. "It's just a place that everybody can kind of be happy, learn, teach, and love," said Rubeling.
This year's grand prize went to The Merry Mischief Bakers, who took first place in the adult category. This is their second consecutive first-place finish, and though based in Arizona, the team members live all across the country. "Our piece is Christmas 'Round the World, and it was a Christmas carousel. So the story of the carousel is that it's at Santa's workshop, and it's where the elves go to play on Christmas Day after all the toys that they have made have been delivered around the world. And the seven sets of animals represent the seven continents of the world where those toys were delivered," said team leader Ted Scutti.
From the thousands of people who flock to the hotel just to get a peek at the displays, to the passionate contestants who pour their heart and soul into their work, one really gets the sense of how much this means to those involved. As Grier Rubeling explains, "It is amazing to really feel like the thing that you worked on for hundreds and hundreds of hours; that not only does it make you happy, but it makes other people happy. Not just the crowd but internationally recognized judges who are doing all of these amazing things in their own lives and they're the ones that really voted for you. And that just feels really, really good after you spent so much time on something."