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Lanier Village Estates kitchen staff creates gingerbread village
Holiday creation resembles ski resort, contains 175 pounds of sugar
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A figure designed as the Grinch stands in the mountainside of the gingerbread house display at Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville. The display totaled about 175 pounds of sugar. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Lanier Village Estates

Address: 4000 Village View Drive, Gainesville

Phone number: 678-450-3000

Website: www.actsretirement.org/community-locations/ga/lanier-village-estates-gainesville/

 

A group of mischievous and culinary creative elves, also known as the kitchen staff at Lanier Village Estates, is at it again.

Once again, a massive gingerbread house display has appeared in the lobby of the retirement community at 4000 Village View Drive in Gainesville.

“I don’t know when we’ll stop,” said Dave McTigue, regional chef and culinary director for Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville.

McTigue headed the team of 10 that helped create the display this year.

“The whole crew helps out, so if we are working on this, the rest of the crew helps to cover the stations,” McTigue said of the longstanding tradition. “We do it once a year. So we like to stay later and work on it, music blasting. We just have a good time.”

McTigue has worked at the community for 14 years. Before that, he worked in hotels with the Hyatt Corporation where he created displays for banquets.

“I’ve been doing these for years and years,” McTigue said.

But each year has a different theme. This year, the theme is a ski resort, complete with mountain slopes, candy cane ski lifts and skiing figurines.

“Of course, you’ve got to have a high mountain,” McTigue said, noting the creators thought last year’s display was bigger.

They were wrong. This year’s mountain reaches about 9 feet off the ground, much higher than last year’s highest point of the display.

And each section of the project is delegated out to the staffers. For example, McTigue worked on a large house, measuring about 33 inches tall.

“As more and more of the staff gets trained, we kind of break up and start making it a little bigger,” he said.

Creating the display takes a lot of skill and an enormous amount of ingredients.

“This probably has 175 pounds of sugar on display here,” McTigue said.

The sugar is manipulated into the fondant figurines. The snow is made of royal icing. And melted sugar with a bit of blue food coloring resembles water for the creek and the ice skating rink.

“When I first started doing it, I was a purist,” McTigue said, explaining all of the pieces were edible at the time. “As I moved along, it’s not all edible. We added lights to it this year, which really had a nice effect to it.”

Of course, the lights weren’t the only inedible element. The frame underneath the display to support the scene cannot be eaten.

The frame, which took two weeks to build, initially started as cardboard boxes and tablecloths. The kitchen staff then roughed out the design.

“You get the idea of what you want (it to look like),” McTigue said, adding the size has to be exact to ensure room for gingerbread houses and other elements.

Once the dimensions are cemented, the team can determine how big to bake the gingerbread for houses and other pieces.

The second stage of the process usually starts the Monday after Thanksgiving and lasts for 10 days.

The gingerbread was baked and carved into houses. Stone candies adorned the outside walls, and sour candies were used to create the windows.

Additional props were made to create a realistic ski resort.

“We made 200 trees,” McTigue said.

Only 150 to 175 were placed on display, but extras were available in case one fell over or fell apart.

While this year’s display was the biggest, it is not McTigue’s favorite.

“There was a farmhouse you could see at the top, and when you walked around on the other side of the farmhouse, there was a corn field,” he said. “The cool thing was, we had an alien Santa that was landing in the corn field ... At the same time, we had the real Santa taking off.”

The gingerbread ski resort will remain on display at least until New Year’s Day.

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