It's not often that you can use the words "epic" and "gingerbread" in the same sentence, but here goes: This year's just-unveiled Star Wars Gingergread Village at the Sheraton Seattle boasts six super-elaborate constructions —one for each Star Wars movie — made of hundreds of pounds of chocolate, almond paste, dough, candy and other food products. And it is just that. Epic. Between the giant, rotating R2D2; elaborate carbon freeze chamber for Han Solo; and more mind-boggling, candy-constructed details, even the non-Star Wars fanatics in your family (raising hand here) will enjoy the display. It should definitely make your list of top Christmas and holiday events for 2015.
"This has got to be by far the coolest set of gingerbread houses I have ever seen," said Jesse Jones of KIRO TV, who spoke at the opening events yesterday to a crowd where carolers mixed with cosplayers in Storm Trooper and Sith lord outfits.
Some background: Every holiday season since 1992, the Sheraton Seattle has planned and executed a Gingerbread Village in its lobby that raises money for JDRF, a foundation that aims to eradicate Type 1 diabetes. After a theme is decided (past years have included more standard Christmas themes such as "Jingle All the Way"), a Sheraton chef is paired with an architect from a local firm and a child "elf" from JDRF. The trio starts working together in June. The architect designs, and constructs the foundation of te design; the chef bakes, pours, melts and glues the appropriate sweet product on the construction for the effect needed; the elf provides feedback and help along the way, providing the much-needed child visitor's point of view.
"They keep getting grander," says Sheraton executive chef John Armstrong, who supervised the project and worked on the Attack of the Clones display. He points out the challenge of producing a huge edible display that must stay intact from Nov. 24 (when it officially opens to the public) to Jan. 3. "We use lots of hot glue," he says. "Royal icing is not strong enough."
Architect Marc Bailley (of Bailley and Bailley), who worked with Armstrong on the Attack of the Clones display, admits that he enjoyed the research for the design: "As soon as we got assigned that [movie] I watched The Attack of the Clones three times.
He says that one of the biggest challenges, from an architectural standpoint, was "trying to get the right candy for the effect you want." His favorite aspect of the display is the crystallized swath of molten blue sugar that is a key part of the display (achieved in part by pouring sugar over ice).
Does he have any twinge of regret that he wasn't assigned one of the original three movies? Oh, no, he says, praising the film's unique elements. "It's the only one with a wedding scene. And it's the first one where Yoda fights," (appropriately, there is a figure of a fighting Yoda at the top of the display). "It's also cool because the Storm Troopers are good in that film."
Jonathan Halversen, the 16-year-old "elf" from Sammamish who helped Bailley and Armstrong, says his favorite element of the villages is R2D2: "He is awesome." He also enjoyed helping with the construction. "It's pretty much all candy and hot glue."
Here are a few more cool facts about the Gingerbread Village:
- In the Star Wars Episode III house, characters including Yoda and Padme were hand-painted by a volunteer from CallisonRTKL, the architecture firm that worked on the house.
- In the Star Wars Episode IV scene, the body of R2D2 is covered with sugar cubes, and backlit by blue gummy bears, whose translucent quality makes the perfect colored light filter.
- Some teams used candy that was more obscure, like gum from Asia that worked effectively as grey brickwork. One firm spent hours browsing through Candy Warehouse for the perfect colors and shapes of candy they needed.
- The triangular space ship in the Star Wars Episode II gingerbread house (the Star Destroyer) was created using slabs of a hardened sugar mixture which the chefs and helpers then pieced together.
This year's Star Wars gingerbread village is titled "May the Holidays Be With You" and is made of 1,200 lbs. of dough, 800 lbs. of icing, 200 lbs. of white chocolate, 250 lbs. of almond paste and hundreds of pounds of candy; and took 7,000 hours of volunteer time from chefs, architects, elves and others to build it.
Tips for seeing Sheraton Seattle's Gingerbread Village
- When: You can see "May the Holidays Be With You" display 24 hours a day in the Sheraton Seattle hotel lobby through Sunday, Jan. 3
- Where: 1400 Sixth Ave, Seattle, WA
- Parking: There are many parking garages in the vicinity, or (recommended) you could take public transit, and avoid parking challenges.
- Photo op: Want a keepsake of this special Christmas/holiday event? Snap a shot of your cutie next to the mini Darth Vader figure, which is next to the Star Wars-decorated Christmas tree.
More top Christmas and holiday events in downtown Seattle that are free or almost-free
- Festival of Trees and Teddy Bear Suite: Two blocks southwest of the Sheraton, get another big dose of holiday magic at Fairmont Olympic in downtown Seattle, including the Festival of Trees in the lobby and the Teddy Bear Suite (Festival of Trees through Dec. 2, Teddy Bear Suite from Nov. 26 through Dec. 29).
- Westlake Park Holiday carousel: Two blocks north at Westlake Park, take a spin on the Holiday Carousel benefiting Treehouse ($3 suggested donation, open Nov. 27 through Jan. 1).
- Snow flurries at Pacific Place: Just north of Westlake Park, gather at Pacific Place mall every evening at 6 p.m. from Nov. 27 through Dec. 24 for a flurry of white stuff that's almost as good as the real thing.
- Seattle Center Winterfest: Starting on Friday, Nov. 27, Seattle Center’s winter celebration is a cash-strapped family's best friend, from an elaborate model train village on display in the Armory to ice sculpting, numerous free performances, an ice rink and more.