712 Pounds of Icing, 186 Pounds of Candy
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
There’s the “Plum Pudding Hotel,” and “Jackie’s Sweet Shop.” Next door is “Salyer’s Fine Socks” and “Sam’s Fish Market.”
Those sweet little businesses are all part of a candy-studded gingerbread village on display for the holiday season in the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott (officially called the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge).
The Marriott’s Executive Sous Chef Jon Lovitch, holder of the Guinness World Record title for the world’s largest edible gingerbread village (on view at the New York Hall of Science in Queens), created this awesome Brooklyn version just for the Marriott.
“Customers are stopping and gazing at it, taking pictures, and asking who made it,” said Marriott’s General Manager Sam Ibrahim. “We’re so proud to have him on our team.”
The Marriott’s gingerbread village, which Lovitch has been working on since July, is comprised of 83 buildings, including dozens of icing-topped businesses, the “Cinnamon and Nutmeg Railroad” and a firehouse, plus 65 trees.
Lovitch created “Gingerbread Lane South” using 712 lbs. of icing, 124 lbs. of gingerbread and 186 lbs. of candy.
While Lovitch built the Queens gingerbread village from his home in the Bronx, he engineered the Brooklyn village, building by building, at the Marriott.
While the hotel’s kitchen is bigger, “It was a challenge building it here,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “At home I have a dehumidifier and dedicated rooms. See the little house with the red brick walls and the M&M roof? That was the first house I made. It kept breaking because it got soft. Of the first ten houses I made, only two survived.”
“The house with the pastel M&Ms came second, in August,” he said. Through trial and error, “I learned I have to bake it, stand it up, and leave it alone for a couple of weeks.”
Lovitch, who puts in full days on his official duties, works at night on his gingerbread creations. On Wednesday, he enthusiastically pointed out some of the village’s unique aspects.
The gingerbread buildings on the right side of the village are the residences, Lovitch said. On the left are the businesses – an ice skating rink, the Gingerbread Lane Fire Department, town hall, and the adorable little shops, which are whimsically named for relatives and colleagues.
“Cecil’s Pies are named for my grandmother,” he said. “Sam’s Fish Market is named for the General Manager” at the hotel. “Jackie’s Sweet Shop is named for my wife.”
Lovitch said that “Salyer’s Fine Socks” is named after a boss, an old Marriott hand “who likes to wear red socks.”
This is the 29th gingerbread village Lovitch has built, and he has piped in icing the number 29 throughout the village. “I put the number right on the train, it’s ‘Old 29,’” he explained. On the firehouse, the words “Engine Company 29” are piped.
Lovitch, 37, said he got started building gingerbread houses 20 years ago. “I lost a gingerbread house competition. I was fine with that, but then I realized that everybody else was using things like Rice Crispy Treats, marzipan, and even edible play-dough. And they didn’t build houses – they built the Titanic, or the Three Wise Men. I said, ‘Wait a minute!’”
The next year he built a 12-house gingerbread village at a different Marriott, and in 1996 he built a giant display for the Capital Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C.
“The first few years, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he admits. “But 12, 13 years ago I learned you have to start early; that gives you time to detail. We’re very busy here at the Marriott. There might be nine or ten days I can’t work on the village. So I start in July.”
“The biggest joke that nature plays on me is the humidity,” he said. When the icing and dough dry out, they will detach, he said. “Icing is required in mass quantities to hold it together.”
Lovitch says he is already thinking about ways to improve the display next year. “It was hard to do, but I’m pretty happy. Next year I’m going to keep the houses up at the top [of the Marriott’s escalator], but not at the bottom.”
Lovitch’s display in Queens has been officially named the largest edible gingerbread village in the world. A gingerbread village in Norway is bigger, “but it has non-edible crepe paper and fake trees. Guinness won’t allow this – it’s a food record,” he said. “You must use icing, gingerbread and candy. No marzipan, no chocolate. There must be 11 percent or more town structures and commercial buildings like schools and train stations. You have to send them a map and photos; they’re very stringent.”
He said he was worried when he sent his documentation in to Guinness. “I knew they were going to find something,” he said. “But on November 21 I got the letter. Yes!”
Lovitch’s achievement has been covered by multiple news outlets, he said, including the New York Times, Time Magazine and CNN. But for Brooklynites, he recommends visiting the gingerbread village at the Marriott instead. “It’s the most fascinating and unique thing in Brooklyn” -- and the Marriott’s special holiday menu kicks off on Sunday.
“It’s worth it to check it out, then stop in and have dinner at a nice restaurant, The Archives,” he said. “Ask for me. If I’m here, I’ll come out and talk to you about it.”