QUEENS, New York — A visit to Santa Claus is standard at Christmastime, but for pure excitement and getting into the holiday mood, how about taking the little ones to the largest gingerbread village in the world?
The 1.5 ton, 450-square-foot village made entirely of edible gingerbread, icing and candy, opens to the public on November 14 at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, with 1000 houses, 95 trees, six gingerbread cable cars, five gingerbread train cars, an underground candy subway station, a skating rink, candy trees, sugar signs, and some New York City favorites including Peppermint Central Park.
Created by New York chef Jon Lovitch out of 600 pounds of gingerbread dough, 3000 pounds of icing and 600 pounds of candy from 14 countries, the village is acknowledged as the largest entirely edible one in the world by the 2014 Guinness World Records. Lovitch, 37, who began his cooking career as a dishwasher at an amusement park in Kansas City and continued working at the Hay Adams Hotel and Manor Country Club in Washington D.C, pursued a degree from The Culinary Institute of America in New York, and worked at the Plaza Hotel. He is now Chef and Director of Food and Beverage at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel. The gingerbread project is his own doing, after work, with his own labor and money (“a few grand,” he says), and working out of his small South Bronx apartment kitchen mostly while his wife sleeps. He says he sometimes gets ideas from houses he spots while driving. Making the village takes a year to develop and complete, requiring approximately 1500 hours of labor. “I save money on ingredients by shopping when I’m out of town,” he explained. “I look for rural grocery stores and just clean them out of their flour or candy or sugar or whatever.”
“It’s kid of like living in Santa’s workshop,” said his mother, Vickie Lovitch, who visited and stayed in the apartment. She said her son’s obsession with Christmas extravagance dates to his boyhood, when he would string up 10,000 Christmas lights outside the Kansas City, Mo., house. Lovitch insists that none of the buildings be under glass, so the smell of gingerbread permeates the display and adds to the mood. Lovitch bakes each piece in a conventional convection oven that handles one baking pan at a time. He then stores them in an empty bedroom until time to cart them to the Hall of Science.
This year, for the first time in its 21st season, two smaller versions of the village will welcome visitors: on November 20 at the Algonquin Hotel, Times Square, Manhattan, and on November 27 at the Marriott where Lovitch works. The chef, who hopes to eventually work full-time making and teaching gingerbread construction, will lead three gingerbread house workshops at the New York Hall of Science on November 22, December 13 and December 27, and will give away the entire village piece by piece on January 11. After that, he will ship houses to children unable to attend the exhibit or giveaway due to health or other situations.
“Being a chef, people may remember my meals for a day or two,” he says, “but with the gingerbread, I can get thousands of people at a time checking out my work.”