Walkways made from Smarties. Shredded wheat shingles. Sugar glass windowpanes. With the smell of gingerbread and Royal Icing permeating the hallways of Plaza Frontenac, Lydia’s House and L’Ecole Culinaire’s Gingerbread House Contest was a popular recent draw for shoppers. “It’s a really fun way to celebrate the holiday season and bring attention to our mission,” says Lydia’s House development coordinator, Melissa Antey.

The fifth annual contest showed off the artistic and edible designs of local chefs, high school students and other professionals. With a theme of Storybook Holiday Seasons, participants spent months conjuring up a plan and weeks executing it. “We contact the high school teams in May, and send invites to chefs in August, so they can decide how they want to interpret the theme,” Antey explains. “It’s a very time-consuming process; many of them spend more than 100 hours working on their houses.”

The contest included 14 entries in four categories:

High Schools: Bayless, Lafayette, Parkway North, St. Charles West, Troy- Buchanan

Professionals: Chase Park Plaza, L’Ecole Culinaire instructors, J. Noto Bakery, Onesto Pizza and Trattoria, Whole Foods Market

Independent Pastry Professionals: Tari Hogue, Pat Keim, Jaleen Neumann

Emerging Artisans: Le Cordon Bleu students

The contestants conjured up creations that interpreted the Storybook theme, ranging from the colorful world of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to a garlandlined Jolly Roger from Peter Pan. Rudolph and his friends from the Island of Misfit Toys were brought to life in fondant and icing, while candy lights covered the roof of the house from Christmas Vacation, and the storefront windows of Miracle on 34th Street glowed with holiday decorations.

Several houses were sponsored by various businesses, while others were available for purchase, and the Le Cordon Bleu entry was raffled off. All proceeds benefited Lydia’s House, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and support services to domestically abused women and their children. “It’s a great fundraiser, but also a ‘friend-raiser’ for us,” Antey says. “In our line of work, we can’t show any photos of our facility or the people we help, so it’s hard for people to get to know who we are. This helps us raise more awareness.”

After a kick-off celebration on Nov. 19, the houses were on display at Plaza Frontenac for 16 days. During that time, shoppers could pick a ‘People’s Choice’ house, while ‘celebrity’ judges voted on their favorites in each category. An award ceremony on Dec. 4 revealed the winners: St. Charles West (High School); J. Noto Bakery (Professional); Pat Keim (Independent Pastry Professional); and Students of Le Cordon Bleu (Emerging Artisan and People’s Choice).

With the success of this year’s event, Antey has already begun planning for next year and hopes to match the imagination of this year’s contestants. “I was blown away by what they were able to create. It’s a work of art that goes way beyond just baking gingerbread.”