Gingerbread tradition and competition at Omni Grove Park Inn

In its 24th year, the Gingerbread Competition attracts more than 150 international competitors and 100,000 guests.

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2011 National Gingerbread Competition at the Grove Park Inn

In its 24th year, the Gingerbread Competition attracts more than 150 international competitors and 100,000 guests.A Christmas tradition for many is gathering around with family and friends to construct a mini-house of edible delights. Gingerbread houses are sticky, sweet and fun. For most, the gumdrops at the top signify that it’s time to celebrate the success — and possibly chow down on said success. Yet, one gingerbread competition in North Carolina takes the holiday tradition to another level, transforming gingerbread houses into pure works of art.The tradition began in 1992, mainly as a community gathering to celebrate the holidays. Little did they know 24 years later the competition would become a beloved way to ring in the season. This year’s competition took place Monday, Nov. 21 with an awards ceremony following.The esteemed judges also bring the competition to the next level, with the panel consisting of renowned food, arts and media professionals. The event also attracts national attention, with coverage by ABC’s Good Morning America, Food Network and Travel Channel.Last year, the first place winners were Jennifer Elmore and Mike Wallauer from Chapel Hill. It was their fourth year competing and they were finally able to receive the $7,500 grand prize. Their house, “Wishing Tree,” resembles if fairy tales, Van Gogh and Dali decided to compete in the competition — wavy architecture defies laws of gingerbread gravity, there’s intricate setting with both a sense of place and story, an owl perches on the roof as Santa casually checks the mail. The most amazing part is that 75 percent this construction is gingerbread (judge rules). But here, there’s no touching (or eating) allowed, just looking.This year’s reward increased a notch — up to $8,500 for the grand prize with additional categories valued at more than $22,000. The judges included a curator from the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the author of “Making Great Gingerbread Houses,” co-owner of International Sugar Collection, and a nutritionist from NBC’S The Biggest Loser. The winning categories include adult, teen, youth and child.This year’s first place winner was Beatriz Müller from Ontario, Canada. “Innisfil” is a whimsically sweet display with a Victorian touch — the house has multiple levels, with a detailed pebbled patio on the exterior and a second floor room nearly suspended in midair. This year saw 150 entries from international competitors. Tracy Johnston-Crum, director of public relations at The Omni Grove Park Inn, said the six-week display draws a crowd of more than 100,000.There is a minimum $10 outdoor parking fee, with many of the proceeds going to support six Asheville nonprofits. Since 2013 more than $190,000 has been raised for organizations like Meals On Wheels, Homeward Bound, United Way and Asheville City Schools Foundation.Visiting the gingerbread display is a perfect way to ring in the season, not to mention the Omni Grove Park Inn’s cozy interior with roaring fireplaces and intricate holiday decorations. There’s even a Gingerbread Holiday Package for those seeking a weekend away. The houses will be on display Nov. 27 until Jan. 5, 2017.