What do you get when you cross the holiday season with 1500 pounds of flour, 1000 glue sticks, 100 pounds of marzipan, 250 pounds of sugar, a team of some of the best chefs, architects, and volunteers in Seattle? You guessed it, the Sheraton Seattle 21st Annual Gingerbread Village display benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) that begins on November 26, 2013 and runs through January 1, 2014. As a mother of a child with type 1 diabetes, I was honored to be able to interview Executive Chef John Armstrong of the Seattle Sheraton Hotel who oversees this festive event and get a sneak peek at the houses as they are being built. This year’s theme, There’s a Rhyme and a Reason this Holiday Season, lends to very elaborate nursery rhyme creations with unbelievable collaboration, planning, and volunteer hours. But it’s no wonder that these people devote their recreation time to help those living with Type 1 Diabetes, for last year alone, they raised $68,000 for JDRF and has raised more than $669,000 for the foundation over the past 20 years.
How do these delectable monstrosities get built? Well, Chef Armstrong explained to me that months before the actual event (Octoberish), the theme is decided and “teams” consisting of a chef, a team of architects, and volunteers are created. Each team, typically made up of 10 to 15 people, comes up with a design based on the theme, creates blueprints and outlines of what the structure should look like and a plan is made. Keep in mind that all the people involved in these creations have regular full-time jobs so the work is done after hours, on breaks, and outside of work. Most of the creations are made at the Sheraton Hotel but since the Sheraton has 75,000 square feet of meeting spaces and catering to go with it all, space is limited in the kitchen, so the teams take over closet spaces, mini meeting rooms, and parts of kitchen.
Foremost though, they must keep in mind that these monumental buildings should be able to fit through doorways and elevators forcing them to create sections separately and then assemble them on the main floor. Within these rooms are shelves holding cookies, candies, and other sweets to help build the structures (almost impossible to not want to “borrow” a few while chatting about the designs.) In one room, the beginning of Jack and the Beanstalk was in its final stages (four days before the big unveiling) and a single volunteer, Kate, whose daughter, Maddy, a child with Type 1 Diabetes, was working on the marshmallow cloud that surrounds the beanstalk – a feat, she says, that took several days of experimentation in her own kitchen to come up with the right marshmallow and glue consistency to make it actually look like clouds. A series of buildings to be added to the base were on a separate table and a special “surprise” bake shop (Maddy’s dream is to be a baker) was in its final stages. Each team has a designated “Santa’s Elf”, a child with Type 1 Diabetes and their families, that help build the delicious-looking creations. It’s difficult for Chef Armstrong to know how many volunteer hours are put into this amazing spectacle of delectable homes, but he suspects that it is easily over 5000 hours.
This is Chef Armstrong’s second year helping create these structures, and he chose to do There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, in conjunction with the DLR Group. Formerly a chef at Disney and comfortable with building elaborate food designs, his intricate design was created with many innovative ways including the laces of the shoe and licorice laces around the shoe simulating seams.
Chef Jay Sardeson, the Sheraton’s banquet chef, who has been building these scrumptious gingerbread domiciles for the last 21 years and whose design won the popular vote last year, opted to be the chef on two teams this year. He helped create Hickory Dickory Dock with Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties and Gelotte Hommas Architecture and I Saw a Ship A-Sailing in conjunction with 4D Architects, Inc. Sardeson says that the hardest part of the process is working with architects who are expecting straight gingerbread pieces, but this material does not cook straight in their 13 inch by 11 foot revolving oven. But, he says, the architects are amazing and are learning how this medium can be used.
Chef Sardeson says he enjoys peeking out while the event is going on and seeing joy on the faces of the patrons. And oh what joy these appetizing structures bring to children and adults alike.
Other palatable constructions were created by Purchasing Manager Lee Baldyga with Callison (Jack and the Beanstalk), Chef Joleen Anderson with MulvannyG2 Architecture (London Bridge is Falling Down), and Chef David Mestl with Weber Thompson (Hey Diddle Diddle).
And the best part of this whole free holiday activity is that it helps raise money for JDRF and help children living with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the pancreas and the pancreas no longer produces insulin. There is no cure…yet. Each year, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults—approximately 80 people per day—are diagnosed with T1D in the United States. Interestingly, the prevalence of T1D in Americans under age 20 rose by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009 and no one knows why yet. And the rate of T1D incidence among children under age 14 is estimated to increase by three percent annually worldwide. And if the fact that children (and all people living with T1D) have to poke themselves in the finger about 10 times a day to draw blood or give themselves an injection 6 or 7 times a day just to eat is not enough for you to support JDRF, keep in mind that T1D accounts for $14.9 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S. each year.
JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF’s goal is to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people’s lives until they achieve a world without T1D. JDRF collaborates with a wide spectrum of partners and is the only organization with the scientific resources, regulatory influence, and a working plan to better treat, prevent, and eventually cure T1D.
WHEN: Nov. 26, 2013 to Jan. 1, 2014
COST: Free, but donations to JDRF are encouraged. Cash donation boxes are onsite in the Sheraton Seattle lobby.