The Gingerbread Extravaganza – the annual line-up of holiday sweet shacks at Le Parker Meridien – is among my favorite New York hotel traditions.
For the last five years, the hotel has invited local bakeries, restaurants and caterers to cook up the ultimate gingerbread creation built around a theme for display in the hotel’s mirror-lined 56th Street atrium. You can’t touch (or nibble) – the edible masterpieces are encased in Plexiglas boxes – but you can look at a line-up of clever constructions worthy of a nod from Cake Boss – or Gretel.
Last year’s Landmarks Around the World inspired a gigantic brown Sphinx sporting a Santa hat, a gingerbread Loch Ness Monster iced in green, and a lifelike rendering of the Lincoln Memorial with Honest Abe warmed up by mittens and earmuffs.
This year’s eye candy is closer to home with brown cookie interpretations of Quintessential New York. Still, the jauntily iced Empire State Building by Le Monde, which scores points as 2013’s tallest gingerbread tower, would have fit in beautifully last year.
A close second in the height category is the Chrysler Building by David Burke Kitchen, iced with red and green wreaths.
Food NYC Style is a reminder that art is food for the soul. A red and green gingerbread rendering of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture — steps away from the hotel on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 56th Street in real life — stands on a bed of sugary snow.
And what better tribute to the classic gingerbread house than Cupcake Café’s fanciful depiction of Gracie Mansion? If I were Dante de Blasio, I’d move right in.
As always, the glory is in the details. A lifelike – in cookie terms – depiction of Papaya King, complete with a well-fed customer exiting with The New York Times, is an eye-catching snippet of NYC Street Scene: The New York Holiday Hustle by Butterfly Bakery.
Coney Island is meticulously detailed — the Cyclone! the merry-go-round! Nathans! — in an upbeat creation by Brooklyn’s Rolling Pin Productions Apertivo Cafe.
And as befits a gingerbread ode to the New York subway system, closely packed gingerbread men and women — street musicians, coffee drinkers, parents with strollers — populate frosted subway cars crowned with M & Ms in The Candy Commuters by Norma’s, the restaurant at Le Parker Meridien.
New this year is the mouth-watering scent of gingerbread that filled the hall the day I visited. Did one of the boxes spring a leak? Who cares? It was heaven.
Still, an empty exhibition pedestal begged the question: what happened? It seems one of the constructions encountered a mishap en route to the hotel. “Happens every year,” a staffer at the concierge desk said. “Check back later in the week.”
The extravaganza is sweetened by the cause: you can vote for your favorite for $1 with proceeds going to City Harvest, an organization that collects unused food from restaurants and hotels and donates it to the needy. Can’t make it to Midtown Manhattan? Vote online. Come January 6, a winning voter will walk off with a five-night stay in balmier climes, namely the Parker Palm Springs, Le Parker Meridien’s warm weather outpost.
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