By Mia Summerson firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — The aroma of delicious holiday treats fill the air in the atrium at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute from the moment the doors opened. Christmas trees and lights illuminate the room to give it that festive glow, and all the way to the back, lies the gingerbread houses.
After more than 3,000 pounds of gingerbread, approximately 100 students, faculty members and helpers have succeeded in turning the culinary center's atrium into a winter wonderland.
“We did a single house last year,” said Cathy Barron, baking and pastry coordinator for the school. “Dr. (James) Klyczek (President of Niagara County Community College) brought up the idea of having gingerbread storefronts, it was much smaller in my head than it turned out.”
The storefronts reach all the way to the ceiling and are fully decorated. Visitors can even go inside one of the rooms. This is where children can go sit on Santa’s lap and tell him their Christmas wishes.
Keeping with tradition, the annual gingerbread house competition, in association with the American Culinary Federation, was also held alongside the opening of the gingerbread town. There were three categories, high school, college and professional/amateur, and these houses were of typical size.
Each gingerbread house can be bid on until 6 p.m. on Saturday. After the bidding is over, the winners will be notified and all the proceeds will be used to pay the first place winners from the three different categories. The rest will be donated to the Food Bank of Western New York.
“Everything used to make the houses has to be edible,” said Scott Steiner, a teacher at the school. “They’re allowed to use mechanical enhancements, such as lights or a motor to spin the house.
“Every year the student houses just get better and better. They’re really getting up toward a professional category."
The family-friendly gingerbread village will be open until the Sunday before Christmas. There will be activities for children including crafts like decorating gingerbread men and Christmas ornaments that they can take home with them.
Santa will be on site from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays, 1 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
“You see all the little kids running around here saying ‘oh my gosh it’s real gingerbread,'” said Division Chair Mark Mistriner. “For me, it’s all about the children seeing the gingerbread house.”
While there will be plenty to do for children, adults have reasons to visit as well. All of the culinary center's retail outlets, the restaurant, deli and café, will be open to the public during the holiday season. Throughout the rest of the month, holiday gift baskets will be on sale.
Adults may also enjoy cooking demonstrations by students and other guests throughout the season. Topics will include how to decorate a gingerbread house, no-bake cookies and “chicken wing wisdom,” among others.
Already the phones have been ringing off the hook with calls about the life-sized gingerbread houses, according to Barron, so it looks like the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute is in for a busy season.
“(Last year) we did well,” said Steiner. “We’re all just hoping it continues getting larger and larger each year.”
For a complete listen of events and dates, visit www.nfculinary.org.