2014-11-27 / Front Page

Gingerbread Mansion Competition Heats Up

By Pat Blakeley


Jacob Ennis, executive chef at the Muse at Vanderbilt Grace, checks details on their entry in the Newport Mansions Gingerbread Competition, a replica of the Isaac Bell House. Work on the project came to a halt when the chef discovered a size discrepancy, necessitating a major adjustment to the structure. (Photos by Pat Blakeley) Jacob Ennis, executive chef at the Muse at Vanderbilt Grace, checks details on their entry in the Newport Mansions Gingerbread Competition, a replica of the Isaac Bell House. Work on the project came to a halt when the chef discovered a size discrepancy, necessitating a major adjustment to the structure. (Photos by Pat Blakeley) Last year marked the first Newport Mansions Gingerbread Competition, with area bakeries making sweet versions of the “Big Five” properties in the Preservation Society’s inventory. Six other homes will be portrayed this season, each representing a different facet of our glorious architectural heritage. In many ways, this challenge is more difficult because the culinary artists cannot just depend on the “wow factor” inherent in the Big Five to impress.

The contest will showcase confectionary versions of Kingscote, Green Animals, Isaac Bell House, Chepstow, Hunter House, and the Chinese Tea House. Winners will be announced Saturday, Nov. 29, at 9 a.m. in The Breakers’ kitchen.

The Muse at Vanderbilt Grace is competing for the first time, with Executive Chef Jacob Ennis overseeing the construction of a gingerbread Isaac Bell House. Ennis was delighted with their task because the distinctive components of the shingle style masterpiece – towers, gables, a two-story porch, pillars – offer many opportunities to shine.

Pastry chef Lucia Dutz is the lead on the project and initial results are impressive. The shingle, stone, and brick portions of the walls are made of gingerbread, each with a different treatment. Bricks are etched gingerbread, painted and edged with royal icing. Many of the unusual shapes of the structure were fashioned using a compressed sticky rice crispy mixture that is very lightweight and strong. Leaded windows are made of gelatin sheets.


The first place winner in the 2013 Gingerbread Contest was Fatulli's Bakery & Deli's interpretation of Rosecliff, which impresed the judges with both its detail and creativity. (Photo courtesy of the Preservation Society) The first place winner in the 2013 Gingerbread Contest was Fatulli's Bakery & Deli's interpretation of Rosecliff, which impresed the judges with both its detail and creativity. (Photo courtesy of the Preservation Society) In accordance with contest rules, the tabletop display is completely edible, crafted mainly from a structural gingerbread made with molasses, flour and brown sugar. Ennis notes they added spices to the dough for a subtle seasonal scent.

The Muse team suffered a major setback, Ennis reveals, after they put all the walls in place. “We had gone over the original blueprints and created it exactly to scale.” Once the house was assembled, however, they discovered it was smaller than the contest size requirements, and significant adjustments had to be made.

Integrating the building’s unique downspout system into the model has also presented a conundrum, Ennis said, but he is confident it will be resolved. “We’ll get it all finished,” he smiles. “Then I just have to worry about transporting it.”

Janet Fatulli, of Fatulli’s Bakery and Deli in Middletown, took home the blue ribbon last year for her interpretation of Rosecliff, with elegant dancers swirling across Newport’s largest ballroom to the tune of a Viennese waltz. She incorporated a bit of fancy, with the rose garden blooming in with the rose garden blooming in the snowy setting and Santa peeping from the rooftop.

This time, Fatulli says, she is taking a different approach as she recreates Alva Vanderbilt’s Chinese Tea House. As with Rosecliff, the details are the hardest part, and she is keeping them close. She allows that the curvature of the tile roof has been a challenge, but says that handcrafted gingerbread tiles will be used. The ornate dragons of the pavilion have been completed and final elements of the design are emerging. As Thanksgiving week is traditionally the busiest of her season, Fatulli expects she will be working into the wee hours of competition day to finish.

Also new to the contest is Elci Pimentel, of Dream Cakes by Elci in South Dartmouth. Her version of Chepstow will be fairly realistic, she says, with a few surprises thrown in. She started on her project weeks ago and just has to finish the landscape. She shares concerns about transportation, but says that her 18 years of experience delivering cakes has taught her a few travel tricks. “You never know what will happen on the road though,” she adds, and notes she will bring royal icing for emergency repairs. “It’s Crazy Glue for gingerbread houses,” she laughs.

Gerry Dupont, of Westport’s Edible Creations by Gerry, is constructing a replica of Kingscote. He took second place last year with a stunning version of The Elms.

Fine Catering by Russell Morin faces both opportunities and obstacles with the Green Animals Topiary Gardens in Portsmouth. The home features dozens of whimsical topiary sculptures throughout the property. Last year, landscaping was merely an accent in all scenes, and this Morin entry could be a game changer.

The students at Bristol Community

College’s Culinary Baking and Pastry Arts Program will interpret Hunter House, the Preservation Society’s oldest holding. In the inaugural contest, the students enjoyed an impressive third place finish for The Breakers, defeating more seasoned competitors.

Judges are pastry chef Mark Soliday of Confectionery Designs, Dr. Laurie Ossman, Director of Museum Affairs for the Preservation Society, and John Grosvenor, Northeast Collaborative Architects.

The gingerbread houses will be on display at The Breakers Nov. 29 through Jan. 4 as part of the Christmas tour program.

Cliff Walk."

In other business, the board authorized the construction of a twostory rear addition and deck to the home of Stephen Djiounas at 38 Sherman St., notwithstanding the objections of several neighbors. The plan was previously accepted by the Historic District Commission.

Djiounas testified that he will convert the house from a twofamily residence into a one-family dwelling. Although tenants occupy the property now, Djiounas will move in after the completion of the improvements, which will raise the ceilings on the second floor and increase the functionality of the

Mark Muetterties, an abutter at 37 Bull St., presented a number of concerns, mainly on the size of the addition. “It’s a small lot, and the plan will have an impact that can’t really be appreciated from the drawings. It will have visual effects and will increase stormwater runoff,” he maintained. Muetterties also argued that the proposal was not the minimum variance necessary to accomplish the homeowner’s goals. “There are many ways to change the layout without increasing the size of the footprint so much,” he said.

Another neighbor, Sarah Gideon, expressed her worries about traffic congestion and added that a storage shed at the rear of the yard could potentially be used as a rental. Djiounas responded that there would be no plumbing there to accommodate occupants.

The application was approved four to one, with Donald Boucher dissenting. He felt that the project was injurious to the neighborhood, one of the factors weighed in zoning issues. “Whether it’s injurious … is in large part based on the thoughts of neighbors, and there are clearly objectors in this case,” he said. On the other hand, the majority felt that while the project resulted in a larger building footprint, it was not injurious overall since several other large residences are nearby. Heidi Blank noted that the additional square footage actually available for use was not substantial, while Lynn Ceglie, acting as chair for the evening, said, “The homeowner is not asking for height changes, which is an important factor for me. It appears to be a minimum variance.”

However, in a concession to objectors’ concerns, the decision was subject to the condition that no plumbing be permitted in the storage shed.

Return to top