A chef hailing from Buckner, who holds the Guinness World Record for creating the largest gingerbread village, has made a personalized gingerbread creation for a resident of his hometown.
Executive Sous Chef Jon Lovitch, of the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, constructed and donated a gingerbread house inscribed with a “Keith’s Bait & Tackle” sign for Judy McFatrich of Buckner in memory of her son, Keith, who recently passed away from cancer.
“It’s really something,” McFatrich said on being a recipient of the gingerbread house. “I didn’t expect it.” She added that along with her son’s passion for fishing, he was fascinated with gingerbread houses and wanted to become a chef himself.
McFatrich said Lovitch and his parents attended the same church in Buckner as the McFatrich family. But as Jon and Keith grew up, they lost track of each other. However, when McFatrich was browsing for gingerbread houses on the Internet not too long ago, she came across a gingerbread village “with a very familiar name attached to it.”
“I later contacted him on Facebook,” she said, “and we began exchanging messages.”
After Lovitch was informed that McFatrich’s son had died of cancer, he decided that he was going to construct a gingerbread house in memory of Keith, which should arrive in Buckner after making nearly a 1,200-mile journey from New York City “sometime this week.”
Lovitch is the creator of Gingerbread Lane, an annual display of homemade gingerbread villages that he creates entirely by himself. For the past 20 years, his purely edible villages have been featured at such places as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the Capital Children’s Museum in New York City and recently at the New York Hall of Science, where he broke the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread village in November 2013. It weighed 1.5 tons in candy, icing and gingerbread plus it covered nearly 300 square feet in space.
“There are many rules and guidelines you have to abide to when trying to break a world record,” he said about his record-breaking gingerbread village. Some of these rules include the dimensions of the village, the amount of materials used to even the type of candy for decoration.
Although Lovitch’s day job is being a chef, he considers his gingerbread side projects a second full-time job in itself. He creates a unique village every holiday season that takes the majority of the year to construct. His process, he said, begins the day after Christmas when he stocks up on discounted Christmas candy used for decorating the houses. He then works on baking gingerbread and preparing other materials virtually each night throughout the year after work at his New York City apartment. Once an exhibition site is chosen for Lovitch’s annual creation, his village is generally on display from November to early January.
There is only one rule that Lovitch abides by in making gingerbread villages: They must be entirely created out of edible materials. He said his interest in gingerbread constructions originated in the early 1990s when he participated in a gingerbread house contest at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Kansas City. The rules didn’t specify that contestants could use artificial/inedible materials and he subsequently lost, he recalled. Since then, he strictly uses icing, candy and gingerbread for his villages.
Over the years, his villages have not only doubled in size, but expontentially grown from 12 houses in 1994 to 257 this last year. He estimated that he has used more than 27,000 pounds of gingerbread; 15,000 pounds of candy and 5,000 pounds of icing since he began building his candy communities. Each gingerbread village on display also takes around 1,000 hours of labor to create, he added.
When asked if Lovitch ever wanted to construct famous landmarks out of gingerbread, such as the Brooklyn Bridge or Empire State Building, besides the usual village, he replied that he sticks with villages because it captures “the magic of Christmas.”
“I’d like to be as mythical as I can,” he said when he creates a gingerbread village. He also said that gingerbread houses, after all, are primarily for children, and he strives to achieve an enchanting/dreamlike aesthetic with his works.
Lovitch said he also would like to return to his hometown of Buckner during the upcoming holiday season to instruct a workshop on how to build gingerbread houses, either at the local library or his old church. “I’d like to arrange something.” Plus he said he would love to display his villages in Missouri as well, such as Silver Dollar City in Branson or elsewhere in the state.
Lovitch is currently in the midst of constructing another gingerbread villege that may rival last year’s record-breaking one. To marvel at his confectionery creations, visit www.gingerbreadlane.org .