By Naiesha Rose
With Christmas just around the corner, one of the holiday’s most traditional features—the gingerbread house—is getting its moment in the spotlight at the New York Hall of Science. Whether you just want to have a look at (and eventually a taste of) some of those creations, or if you’d rather try your hand at making one of your own, there’s something available at NYSCI’s GingerBread Lane.
From now until Jan. 15, visitors to GingerBread Lane can stroll past houses made completely from edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. The houses are drafted, designed, baked, planned, built and decorated by chef Jon Lovitch over the course of an entire year. GingerBread Lane has won the Guinness World Record for 2013, 2014 and 2015 for the largest gingerbread village and Lovitch’s creations will contend for that title again this year.
For his last record-breaking effort, Lovitch said that he made 1,102 gingerbread houses. This year he hopes to beat his own record by clocking in at around 1,200 icing-covered structures.
While Lovitch is a master of the traditional gingebread house, he also likes to broaden his horizons a bit. “At the absolute best, my theme would be Charles Dickens’ London,” said Lovitch. “I love the black and white look that you see in the old Ebenezer Scrooge movies, and a little bit of the Tim Burton flair… like ‘Corpse Bride,’” he added.
Becoming a gingerbread village world record holder was not an easy feat for Lovitch. Despite learning to become a chef at Johnson County Community College in Kansas City, Mo., his specialty was Southern cuisine, not baking.
“I was actually in a gingerbread competition in 1993 named Gingerbread Lane… and I lost,” said Lovitch. “I could handle losing, but I couldn’t handle the fact that everybody that I lost to was not making gingerbread houses or not using gingerbread, which unfortunately was allowed for the rules.”
Always looking for a challenge, Lovitch decided to keep training himself in the art of making gingerbread houses by building an entire gingerbread village the following year.
“The very first village I made in 1994, I had no clue of what I was doing,” he said. “It took several years to get the icing right.”
After years of making gingerbread houses, Lovitch learned about the strictly “gingerbread and icing” Guinness World Record event in 2012. He knew he had to be in the 2013 competition. Facing competition that included bakers from Norway, India and Germany, Lovitch won by making 157 gingerbread houses and following the strict guidelines, which prohibited using any inedible products to hold the houses together.
After leaving his career as an executive chef of southern cuisine at such hotels as the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, he is now a fulltime gingerbread village baker.
“Between the three exhibits I did this year, I spent 3,100 hours,” said Lovitch. His other displays are at the Kennywood Amusement Park near Pittsburgh and the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.
When it comes to his partnership with the New York Hall of Science, he couldn’t help but notice how it was a perfect fit.
“It’s chemistry,” he said. “It took me 10 years to understand that part of it before it took off.”
Over a decade, Lovitich learned to use just the right amount of oil and water at the correct temperature to make the perfect gingerbread house, but he hasn’t mastered his emotions when it comes to the bittersweet moment of giving the delectable homes away.
“I conduct the giveaway myself. It’s actually fun… people get in line because they want a piece of it… but it is gut-wrenching for me because a whole year’s work is gone in literally a matter of hours. Something that took me over 3,000 hours and 11 months is gone in two hours. That’s sad for me. I’m like, wow! But it is also good, because now I can start over.”
If you’d like to follow in Lovitch’s footsteps and make a gingerbread house yourself, NYSCI is offering several GingerBread Lane House-Building Workshops over the next few weeks. In those workshops, participants will be able to build their houses from a kit containing the same materials Lovitch used to create the GingerBread Lane exhibit: gingerbread pieces, icing and candy. The workshops will be at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Dec. 10, 17, 28 and 29. The cost of the kit is $10, $8 for NYSCI members.
But if you’d rather sample Lovitch’s work than your own, you can come to the giveaway on Monday, Jan. 16. The gingerbread houses will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis until GingerBread Lane is nothing but a memory. Visitors are asked to bring a box or bag (flat-bottomed shopping bags or paper grocery bags work best) to carry their gingerbread loot home. The Giveaway runs from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with the line beginning at 2 p.m. Free with NYSCI admission.
For more information about GingerBread Lane and the New York Hall of Science, go to www.nysci.org.