Professional and amateur chefs from Walla Walla have spent countless hours baking and decorating festive gingerbread houses for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation's fourth annual gingerbread house competition held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center.
The gingerbread house competition is a fundraiser for the Blue Mountain Community Foundation and its efforts to end homelessness. Visitors voted for their favorite houses by placing money into the jar next to each house. All funds donated go directly to the foundation and its charitable work.
There are separate categories for gingerbread houses made by for professional and amateur chefs and bakers. Entrants in the professional category include Olive, Walla Walla Bread Co., Cakes by Kim and The Marc. Amateur entrants include Rachel Nichols, Chris Coates, Elijah and Sage Kline and the Sanders and Sisk families.
Beth Swanson, the chair of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation's promotions committee, had the idea to start the competition four years ago. The competition not only benefits the charity, but also brings people downtown to celebrate the holiday season.
"At the foundation we were looking to do more to bring families downtown," said Jennifer Northam, the Events and Public Relations Manager for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.
The foundation helps to recruit chefs and publicize the event, along with setting up and taking down the houses.
Northam notes that Walla Walla is becoming known for its excellent chefs and bakers, so this competition provides a fun way to allow the chefs to show off their talent while raising money for charity.
"[My favorite part is] the amazing original creativity that comes," Northam said. "There have never been two similar houses in a row in a year. It is rare that the same type of creation happens in the same year. We want people not only to shop downtown but to have great experiences downtown, and this is a great holiday feeling."
Entrant Kim Wheeler, of Cakes by Kim, created a gingerbread village resembling Walla Walla.
She dedicated 25 hours to complete her whimsical gingerbread scene. Wheeler says she enjoyed making her creation, especially because her efforts help the Blue Mountain Community Foundation.
"I wanted to create a village or small town like Walla Walla with a lot of charm and whimsy," Wheeler said. "My favorite part of competition is just having fun and knowing you can help the Foundation with their charity."
Mandi Konen of The Marc created a Pioneer Park gingerbread scene with the help of The Marc executive chef Bear Ullman. Her entry focuses on fond memories of Pioneer Park.
"When trying to decide what we wanted to do for the competition, Bear Ullman and I had decided that we wanted to do something that was easily recognizable to the area," Konen said. "Everyone has fond memories involving Pioneer Park, so we went with it! The focal point of the gingerbread entry is definitely the gazebo, however, it is the trees that really finish it off."
This year's winner of the professional category, Olive Marketplace & Caf's pastry chef Sarah German, was presented with a trophy. For their crche populated with marshmallow folk and farm animals, the winners of the amateur category, Elijah and Sage Kline, were presented with a gift certificate for dinner for two at The Marc.
Last year, Sugart's Mandi Konen placed first. The first two years that the competition existed, Sidney Frey of 26 Brix took first place the competition.