Experience the glory of GingerBread Lane
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The day after Christmas is typically a time for relaxation and reflection. This comes after a busy holiday season. But that is not true for Jon Lovitch. December 26 is the day he gets started on next year’s Christmas miracle. He hits up stores’ post-holiday sales. He stocks up on sugar. He stocks up on candy and other sweets. He will use them to build his next GingerBread Lane. He is driven by visions of Yuletide glory.
He is a 39-year-old chef. He has been building gingerbread houses since he was a teenager. But Lovitch is no run-of-the-mill gingerbread aficionado. He built GingerBread Lane. It is on display through January 21 at the New York Hall of Science. It is in Queens, New York. His displays have broken Guinness World Records for world’s largest gingerbread village. For the last five years, Lovitch has won the title annually. He beat out villages in Norway and other countries. He is going for a sixth straight title this year.
GingerBread Lane was made using 682 pounds of homemade gingerbread dough and 775 pounds of candy. The candy came from more than 11 countries. GingerBread Lane has 3,900 pounds of icing and weighs in at around three tons. It takes up 500 square feet of space. Lovitch spent a year buying supplies. He made the dough and icing from scratch. He decorated each of the 1,102 buildings right down to their gumdrop-speckled rooftops. The completely edible village took about 1,500 hours to construct. It was built over the course of an entire year.
“I’m a chef by trade and a food purist, so I don’t believe in using ingredients that are inedible,” Lovitch tells Smithsonian.com. “Sure, it would be much easier to build if I used Styrofoam and glue. But Guinness mandates it’s built in such a way. And that’s the same way I’ve always done it.”
When Lovitch isn’t hunched over his oven in his cramped Bronx apartment, he serves as executive chef at the historic Algonquin Hotel. It is in Times Square in New York City. Because of space restraints in his home kitchen, he can only work in batches. He works on nights and weekends. He makes about three pounds of icing at a time and stores his creations in a spare bedroom. As a result, his entire home smells like a Christmas bakery year-round.
“By the end of summer I can’t even smell it anymore,” he says. “But whenever I have friends over, they always comment on it.”
Lovitch’s schedule increases in intensity once July rolls around. He does the bulk of the baking during the summer. It isn’t until fall that he begins work on each structure’s details. This includes the intricate candy-coated rooftop of the S.C. Kringle & Co. Department Shoppe. It also includes the lifelike stonework on the exterior of a row of gingerbread brownstones. Lovitch even uses specially ordered coffee-flavored gum from Japan. It simulates brown bricks.
“I try to make my village as lifelike and detailed as possible—it’s a cross between something in a Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and a Tim Burton movie,” says Lovitch. Kids aren’t the only people drawn to the delicious intricacy of his gingerbread creations. He says: “Seniors are also really into it.”
GingerBread Lane’s appeal is widespread, but it can’t last forever. After several weeks delighting kids of all ages, Lovitch must dismantle GingerBread Lane on January 21. But he doesn't throw his creations in the trash. Instead, he invites visitors to come to the New York Hall of Science. He lets people take home buildings for free on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Taking it apart can be gut-wrenching,” he says. “You realize as you give away each piece that you’ll never see it again. Just like Christmas, it’s an ephemeral thing. A brief, fleeting moment in time.”