The Construction of a Holiday Classic
Fairmont engineering and culinary teams begin planning the gingerbread house in July, which is also when crews begin baking 12- by 4-inch gingerbread bricks to cover the home’s wooden frame.
As the holidays draw near, builders frame the rooms, set the roof, and prepare the structure for decorations. “When it’s complete, each gingerbread brick gets placed by hand, and the pastry people pipe icing along every single grout line,” Walton says (that icing requires more than 1,000 pounds of powdered sugar and around 150 gallons of egg whites).
Teams then tackle the sweet job of outfitting the gingerbread house with candy, from Peeps to gumdrops to strands of Nerds Rope in all colors of the rainbow. There are candy canes, of course, and in past years, designers have attached individual Hershey’s Miniatures bars to the walls with icing. When it’s complete, more than 1,900 pounds of candy adorn the Fairmont’s gingerbread house.
Walton, a self-described tinkerer, also creates magical holiday accents for the house, often from everyday items. He turns industrial air filters into snow-dusted hills, and motors salvaged from office shredders and windshield wipers power reindeer rocking chairs and swirling snowflake mobiles. His hand-cut shadow puppets even star in a holiday video aired inside the house.
As any avid baker (or Great British Bake-Off viewer) will know, sometimes, there are mishaps in creating a confectionary masterpiece — one year, the lobby lights even melted the home’s chocolate-covered roof. But unexpected surprises (both planned and accidental) charm hotel guests and public visitors alike throughout the season.
After the holidays, Walton removes the interior electronics and teams tear down the structure. The framework gets recycled, and the bricks, candy, and other edible ingredients are composted. The Fairmont lobby returns to normal, but the holiday spirit lingers until the next season.
“The gingerbread house is definitely a challenge, but we’re all glad to be part of the project. To watch kids light up as they explore, and to see adults marvel at the little nuances, is all really incredible,” Walton says.