Gingerbread house competition is high-stakes for local culinary students


by Heidi Goitia

Bio | Email | Follow: @heidigoitia

Posted on December 3, 2013 at 1:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 3 at 2:00 PM

PHOENIX -- Decorating gingerbread houses is a common tradition for families, but for some Valley students, there’s a lot at stake. A lot of cash, to be specific.

Students at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School are competing for some big prizes -- money they can use toward tuition or supplies. The top prize is $1,000. Second place gets $500 and third gets $250.

The aspiring chefs spend up to a week putting their scenes together, and hope it’s enough to walk away the winner.

Sheraton Executive Chef Winonna Herr is one of the judges who will decide who gets the cash, and just as important, the bragging rights. She says she looks for several things when judging.

"We look for the detail in the work, the precision, and also the skill that it takes to do some of the techniques used," she explained.

This year's theme is "The Polar Express" so you’ll see train tracks made of licorice, train cars loaded with candy, even a bridge made out of 22 pounds of chocolate. Every single element of the display needs to be edible, even if that means adding uncooked pasta.

Valley residents and visitors can see these masterpieces on display at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown from now until the end of December.

And, if you’re so inclined, she advises visitors to take some inspiration home to their own projects.

"Be creative," she said. "Go down the candy aisle and trust me, there’s all kind of things there to use."