LUMBERTON — Ann Bailey’s home away from home is in Asheville at the Grove Park Inn, a nearly 100-year-old historic hotel that houses the National Gingerbread House Competition.
“The first time I learned about the competition was when I was watching the Food Network back in 2006,” said Bailey, who was born and raised in Lumberton and now lives in Cary. “I thought, I can do that.”
She was right. Bailey was recently named the grand prize winner in the The National Gingerbread House Competition, a holiday tradition at the Inn that began in 1993. Now in its 20th year, what started a few locals constructing houses for the holidays, has grown into a national competition attracting 182 entries this year from all over the country.
Bailey’s gingerbread house will reside at the Grove Park Inn until it makes its way to the set of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where it will be considered for inclusion in a segment on the Christmas Day show.
“This is my seventh year competing,” Bailey said. “I started back in December of last year. I came up with the idea, made the pattern and did prototypes … . Usually the hardest thing is coming up with an idea. You don’t want to copy something someone else has done.”
Gingerbread entries — which are not to be eaten — are judged on overall appearance, originality and creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme. Except for the base, they must be constructed entirely of edible materials.
Bailey’s design features the three wise men standing inside the manger clutching their gifts. As a camel rests beside them, the folds of their cloaks billow to the ground as though they were sculpted from clay. But they weren’t. They were made from gingerbread.
“I just sat in the kitchen and developed a recipe that would work for me,” Bailey said. “The gingerbread gel, which I call ginger-gel, is something I developed because I knew it was flexible. Once I got it all together, it was very flexible, and I thought to do gingerbread clothing out of it.”
Bailey, an interior decorator and a graphic designer, was a novice at creating out of edible materials prior to the competition; her limited baking experience consisted of pre-packaged cake mixes requiring eggs and water.
But during a phone interview, “persistence” punctuated her straight-forward, to-the-point conversation about her “long-overdue” win.
“It’s a long time coming and the reason I say that is because when you’ve been in a national competition for seven years, six of those seven, I was top 10. In 2009, I won first place, so I just feel like it was my time,” Bailey said.
Bailey credits her win to her “precision,” and the “earthy appeal” of the construction — the fate of which was judged by a panel of world-renowned sugar artists and pastry chefs, cookbook authors, a cake baker for the stars and a curator for the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
“I stayed within the realm of what I know and I know that I’m good at, and really, it’s a passion,” she said.
In addition to the title, she won $5,000, a two-night stay at the Grove Park Inn, and culinary lessons from chef and sugar artist — as well as competition judge — Nicholas Lodge.
“It’s my hobby. I think with any hobby you have that you feel like you’re good at, every year you continue to advance in that knowledge,” Bailey said. “That’s the way it was for me and I wanted to persevere with it until I felt like I’d done the ultimate piece. You master it and then you move on.”
And what advice does Bailey cook up for future ginger-bread architects?
“Perseverance,” she said.