Gingerbread Time

presented by The International Gingerbread Society

Pastry Chef Says Gingerbread Houses Take Passion


Susan Larsonís Westin Hotel Gingerbread House

   Pastry chef Susan Larson of Westerville, Ohio, is a storyteller. To Larson, a gingerbread house is, well, just a nice looking house unless it tells a tale.

   "You want people to come back again and again and look at the house and discover things about it they didnít see the first time," said Larson, owner of Le Gateau, a cake and pastry shop in central Ohio. "There has to be some discovery and the house has to be fun. Thatís what makes making them worthwhile.

   "People have no idea of how many hours weíll put in making a house. They will call and say, ĎIíd like a gingerbread house for about $200 or $300.í But that will just maybe take care of the food cost. Candy is expensive. And that price doesnít take into account my labor," said Larson, who thanks her assistant, Debbie, for both her inspiration and precision work. "You have to have a passion for doing the houses or it isnít worth it."

   Larsonís love affair began about 30 years ago, and she has become one of Americaís most respected gingerbread house creators. She credits her art and design background with continuing education (think the Lenotre Pastry School in France and the French Pastry School in Chicago) and cutting edge techniques for her success.

   Larsonís creation of a conservatory, complete with a visible interior filled with palm trees and tropical plants, won second place in the 2006 National Gingerbread House Competition and Display held at the Grove Park Resort and Spa in Asheville, N. C.

   "I used a lot of sugarwork with that one and the judges said it was one of the more difficult houses to make," said Larson, describing her "glasshouse." "I always try to think of something a little different and a little more difficult to make. I didnít enter the 2007 competition, but maybe weíll go back again."

   During her career, Larsonís creations have included a North Pole winter scene featuring

penguins ice skating and polar bears making igloos. For several years, sheís made about 30 houses each holiday season for an architectural firm which presents them to clients as gifts. All her creations are made from scratch using the freshest ingredients.

   For Halloween, Larson has made elaborate haunted houses. Tiny mini lights were threaded through clothing sleeves of hand-sculpted trick-or-treaters so they could hold "working" flashlights.

   In addition, Larsonís multi-story, 6-foot long replica of the Westin Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, is a favorite holiday tradition for guests and a much-loved centerpiece for the hotelís seasonal celebration.

   "There are also a number of clients who order a house from me every year, including one lady who has ordered houses for the past 17 or 18 years, every since her son was about 2 years old, " said Larson." She told her son when he was little that Santa brings the gingerbread houses. She always orders two Ė one for display and a smaller, completely edible one. Itís kind of a joke now. We say to her, ĎHow old is your son? Donít you think you should tell him the truth about the houses?í "

   The Toy Shop is a large, stunning gingerbread creation accented with red, white and green candy canes that Larson created this past winter holiday season. The house was featured in the December 2007 issue of Ohio Magazine and donated as part of a fundraiser for St. Stephenís Community House in Columbus. It sold for $5,000.

   "I wish I could sell a house for that much," said Larson. "But itís wonderful to know it raised that much money and that it went to someone who really liked it."

   To contact Larson, visit http://www.legateau.net/Site/Home.html or call 614-939-1930.

   Story by Jill Sell
   For permission to use this article, contact Jill Sell at jillsell@en.com
   © International Gingerbread Society