When the holiday season starts, people start entering gingerbread house contests at work, with families, and some high-level public competitions. Depending on whether it’s a friendly contest between friends, or a serious competition with big prizes behind it, the rules will be more or less rigid.
If you’re really determined to win the contest, what kind of things should you pay attention to?
To win a gingerbread house contest or competition, you need to pay close attention to the rules, and to who the judges are. You should also review the previous winners, and determine what factors led to the houses’ winning. If you tailor your design to those factors you’ll greatly increase your chances of winning. If you ignore them, your chances of winning will be extremely low.
I’ve entered a lot of gingerbread house contests, and I’ve won some and lost some. But based on the factors I listed, I knew when I was going to win or lose. I want to have fun when I make gingerbread, so I generally don’t worry too much about winning!
However, if you’re serious about winning, read on for some tips that will increase your chances.
Pay attention to the contest rules.
The most important thing that you can do when entering a gingerbread house contest is to pay attention to the contest rules. Most formal contests have very specific rules about how much of the structure has to be edible, what the size restrictions are, what format the entries must be in, and what forms need to be turned in. If anything is missing, it can immediately disqualify the entry.
You might build the most incredible gingerbread structure the world has ever seen, but if it’s an inch too tall it’s not even going to be judged.
You might think this is unfair or ridiculous in the grand scheme of life, but there have to be parameters that the contestants follow or else the judging won’t be equal. You’ll still be able to be creative within the bounds of the rules, so just think of them as part of the challenge.
For a less-formal contest there will probably still be rules that you need to follow, so make sure that you pay attention to what you can and can’t do.
Pay attention to who the judges are.
In any baking or decorating competition, the judges will play a major role in who the winners are. This is due to the fact that different judges will have different standards and different experience, and they’ll judge differently as a result. If you know who the judges are and what they will likely expect from the winner, you can tailor your entry to that.
This might sound very clinical and un-creative, and it is! I’m personally not a big fan of contests because of this one piece of the puzzle.
Everyone will have a different opinion and they bring those opinions to the judging.
If the judges for your contest are all amateurs or coworkers, you’ll be able to be more creative and “weird,” because people who aren’t trained in culinary look at the whole thing and not just the technical aspects.
If the judges are all professional food critics or chefs, forget it, you’d better err on the side of being “clean” because that’s what they look for.
I know this is s generalization, but anyone who’s entered a baking or decorating competition will tell you that it’s true…The judges will look for specific things, and if you want to win you’d better give those things to them!
The Children’s Museum here used to have a gingerbread house competition, and they would auction the houses off to raise money. The first year I entered I made the “Gingerbread Hotel,” which was where the gingerbread men lived when they weren’t working.
It was full of weird gingerbread puns and little scenes of gingerbread men doing random things, and my kids were very excited because they wanted me to win. However, that year the judges were some high-profile chefs and based on that, I knew that my house didn’t have a chance to win because it was so weird.
I told my kids that I wouldn’t win, but I would come in second. Sure enough, when they announced the winners, that’s what happened.
When I went up to get the award someone in the crowd yelled “You should have won!” Then when they auctioned it off it sold for $1400, which was the highest amount they got for any of them. That’s because the people who were there to enjoy the gingerbread houses were looking for entertainment, not only “clean work.”
The winner of that contest was a grey house that looked like a Victorian house with very little detail, but it was built very precisely. When the judges’ comments were read, they said that it was very “clean work.” That was exactly what I expected based on who the judges were.
Another year I won the contest because it was the Children’s Museum staff and some other people who weren’t food professionals judging. People who haven’t been trained to look for “clean work” just vote on what they like, and the results of the judging are always different.
I personally like to be more creative and have fun when I do gingerbread houses, but if I really wanted to win a contest, I would check to see who the judges were, then I would tailor my design to their preferences.
It seems ridiculous, but honestly, judging anything creative isn’t a black and white process. You have to work the angles if you want to win.
Study the previous winners.
If the contest is an annual competition, and you can see what the previous years’ winners were, you should study what factors they have in common to increase your chances of winning. If there’s a specific style that consistently takes the top prizes, that’s the style that you should emulate. If there are specific themes, materials, or colors that seem to win a lot, pay attention to that.
Some contests will favor more traditional structures, but most will have a variety of styles that won prizes.
If there are different categories that you can enter, pay attention to which ones seem to fit your design style the best. Entering your gingerbread in those categories can increase your chances of winning.
If you see that there are consistent winners of second or third prizes that are more figurative and less traditional, but that the first place winner is always an actual house, take that into account.
If the winners all involve a lot of gumpaste sculpting and multiple types of materials, you might have to use more than gingerbread and piping to win.
This all might seem very calculating, but the truth is that awards for art (and decorated gingerbread is art) are always awarded based on personal preference when it comes right down to it. “Best” is always based on what the individual likes at the end of the day.
Whether it’s a gingerbread house decorating contest, a cake decorating contest, or the pie contest at your county fair, paying attention to the details will increase your chances of winning. If you’re more like I am, though, you should just make a house for your own amusement and not stress about the process and the limitations that come with entering a contest!
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