HUDSON — It doesn’t look like much right now but give it a few days and the culinary room at Fivay High School will play host to a wintery fairyland that would make the witch in Hansel and Gretel green with envy.
Partially finished gingerbread houses dot desks and a large table up against the back wall in room 148 where students are working on their midterm practical exam. The beginning of Cinderella’s Castle, a gingerbread behemoth, sits atop a hill made from hardened foam that will be covered with icing. Pringles chip containers form the skeleton of the castle’s towers and turrets and await their sugary coating.
At a table by the entrance to the room, seniors Emma Clark and Nikole Katleba, both 17, cut strips of colorfully striped chewing gum into rounded shingles for the Hansel and Gretel house they’re building together. The shingles will be pasted on with royal icing.
“It’s kind of the best thing ever,” Nikole said while she measured rolls of gum to cut. “We’re able to express ourselves creatively.”
Last year, the students named their gingerbreadcreation “Spackington Village” after their culinary instructor, Stefanie Spack-Adams. This year, they narrowed the theme down to “Whoville,” from the popular Dr. Seuss story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Storybrook,” named for the popular fairy tale-laden television show “Once Upon A Time.”
Instead of pencils and exam packets, culinary students with various levels of experience are kneading and rolling out gingerbread dough they’ve made from scratch. Culinary I students decorate pre-made gingerbread houses taken from store-bought kits, while Culinary II students build village storefronts and Culinary III and IV students build the enchanted forest around the village.
“This year we decided to kick it up a notch,” Spack-Adams said. While last year’s village had features like melted jolly ranch windows that simulated stained glass and an ice rink in the village square, this year’s has a bridge leading up the the castle property and a fairy tale book molded from Rice Krispie treats and decorated with icing.
“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away...” the book will read.
This year, students learned a gingerbread recipe that is harder but less susceptible to Florida humidity. Last year’s culinary students struggled with the occasional crumbling wall or roof because the gingerbread softened.
“The dough was so tough we had to sit on the floor to knead it in the bowls,” Nikole said. “I had to almost throw myself on it.”
Before the students could start construction though, they had to build the entire village using cardboard models. They also read fairy tales and looked at illustrations and movie stills to figure out how they could translate the house’s iconic looks into edible decor.
While students are working together to bake, construct and decorate, they are also reponsible for their own projects and some struggle, including the teacher, to look away when a classmate’s gingerbread walls cave in. It is an exam, after all.
“It’s hard to see someone else’s wall or roof fall in and try not to help them,” Spack-Adams said. “You have to let them figure it out. In order to succeed, you may have to fail. Sometimes your walls fall down.”
Spack-Adams, who got a biomedical sciences degree before choosing culinary school over medical school, incorporates food science into the curriculum.
The students started the project on Tuesday, Dec 3, and will have until Monday, Dec. 16, to add the finishing touches. Storybook will be open to public viewing from the start of the school day until around 6 p.m.
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