GTCC culinary student creations | @awfullybrittish

Now that we are in the homestretch for the holiday season, professional and amateur culinary architects begin creating palatable structures from confections and dough. The students in the introductory baking course at Guilford Technical Community College are tasked with just that as the semester comes to a close. Part of the final project is designing, baking, and building a gingerbread house.

Michele Prairie, or Chef P, as her students refer to her, started with GTCC 13 years ago. When she began at the school, the students were asked to write a final paper at the end of the semester, and she found an opportunity to introduce change.

“It incorporates what we learn over the course of the semester,” Chef P said, “the students enjoy it more than writing a paper.”

The criteria for the gingerbread houses are simple, but that doesn’t mean the construction follows suit.

“Mine’s the one that broke,” said Meredith Shaffer, 21, a second-year culinary student whose aspirations are to one day be a head chef at a restaurant and operate

her own fleet of food trucks. “I made it all and it was all up and made it all and it was all up and ready, and then I put it in my car, and every little bump it slowly collapsed. By the time I got here, it was all in pieces.”

Shaffer’s pretzel log cabin is currently being reconstructed with help from Chef P.

Taylor O’Brien, a 16-year old student who, thanks to middle college, is partaking in her first year of culinary school, utilized licorice rope to create strands of lights that dangle across the rooftop of her house. “The hardest part was getting the roof to stay on when it was being glued together.”

The varying styles of houses on display show the diversity of interests that the culinary students have, as well as the degree of difficulty it takes making a gingerbread house from scratch.

“We have a lot of students at different skill levels.

Some are here to work in the industry, some are here to learn to cook,” Chef P said.

Nicole Sumler, 21, a second year student at GTCC, created a house inspired by the Wizard of Oz, complete with a yellow brick road and witch legs underneath the house.

“The whole road was made out of Starbursts. It was difficult. The roof was made out of Hershey bars, and I made the witch under the house by forming Rice Krispies Treats and forming fruit roll ups around,” she said.

Regardless of the task and time, the gingerbread houses display the unique interests of all the students in the baking class, and Chef P enjoys the process of helping them construct. There is one thing that she’s absolutely adamant about, and that is requiring students to bake and cut their own gingerbread.

“I can tell with the kits – our gingerbread is flat because you cut it out with a knife. We want them a bit larger, everything has to be edible, they can design any way they want, be creative, use edible, abide by the laws that are set forth… and you get a good grade.”

Chef P also agreed that because of the reality shows on television, she’s seen an increase in the interest in the culinary arts. She was also quick to point out that those shows – Hell’s Kitchen in particular – are not exactly precise portrayals of what it’s like to work in a real kitchen. Chef P’s background, aside from her 13 years at GTCC, include executive pastry chef at the Koury Convention Center, so she knows a thing or two about the confection business. !


An estimated 50 gingerbread houses will be on display on GTCC’s Jamestown Campus until Dec. 8 in the Joseph S. Koury Hospitality Career Center.