Interview with Jon Lovitch, creator of World’s Largest Gingerbread Village
by Waverly W., 8 years old, and Ale P., 8 years old, Manhattan
The Mom here! Full disclosure: I am terrible at making gingerbread houses. This year, after a promising start, our yearly house once again collapsed and we took the backs and bottoms of each house and turned them into “edible gingerbread Christmas cards” piled high with candy. Parenting fail! A few days later I heard about Jon Lovitch, who creates an amazing, world-record holding collection of gingerbread houses on display at NY Hall of Science called Gingerbread Lane. Hmm, here was a way to make up for my lack of “gingerbreadability” – my daughter would love to see those houses, and I figured I’d try for an interview while I was at it, to learn about the (Gingerbread) man behind the adorable houses…and to score a tip or two so that next year, when I try again, maybe my house can finally keep from falling apart. Jon graciously agreed to a kid interview, so I had Wave pick a kid reporter, think up some questions, and off we went to Gingerbread Lane. Here is their interview.
What kind of chef are you when you’re not making gingerbread houses?
That’s a good question – I’m actually just a gingerbread maker. I actually gave up being a chef just to be this. I used to be an Executive Chef at the Algonquin Hotel in Times Square, but I gave that up for this. It’s pretty cool, I get to make gingerbread houses for a living, huh?
Yeah, that’s cool!
When did you build your first gingerbread house?
I built my first gingerbread house in 1993, and it didn’t come out very well and it kind of fell apart. It was in a competition that I lost – if you can believe it, I lost a gingerbread competition…and I wasn’t too happy about it so I started making villages the next year.
Our houses always fall apart! How do you keep that from happening? (OK, the moms want to know that one)
I don’t! It’s almost impossible to keep it from happening. You just have to use A LOT of icing, you have to just keep adding and adding icing. Some of these big ones behind us right here, like the Thanksgiving Café, those houses weigh more than 60 pounds, they weigh more than you do! I could pick you up easier than I could pick one of those up – so the trick is A LOT of icing. (The Mom here – so THAT’S the trick!!)
How many houses are there in this village?
You know, I really don’t even know because we’ve never counted this year. We’re supposed to count tomorrow for the Guinness Book of World’s Records any day now, literally, but I think we have about 1,225. Our initial world record was 157 and a lot of people in Europe didn’t like that world record so we got really big the last few years and went over a thousand.
Do you make them by yourself or do you have any help?
I do this all by myself, I can’t have any help, it would drive me crazy to have other people touching them. So it’s all me, I work alone. (The Mom here: I hear ya. Try working with kids!) I’m actually starting for next year next week. On January 3rd I’ll start over for 2017.
How did you get the idea to build the world’s largest gingerbread village?
Well, actually I got the idea because other people were claiming they made the largest gingerbread village and mine was blatantly bigger and I got kind of mad about it and decided to go after the world record. I wasn’t “angry” angry, I was just mad that they were saying theirs was the largest in the world but mine was obviously bigger, so…now I have the world record.
Where do you build all the houses?
I actually build them all in my home, I have a small spare bedroom, 20 x 10, very small – 200 square feet, so this is 900 square feet, so this all fits in a 200 foot square bedroom for the entire year up until November. A lot of shelves, a lot of tables, a lot of stacking – which you’ll learn as you get farther in school. Simple algebra and geometry is how you make things fit into spaces they don’t want to fit in (The Mom here again, hey Jon, can you come over and help me fit all these Christmas toys into this tiny NYC apartment please? My algebra and geometry skills aren’t that good!)
Do you have any pets and if so, do they try to eat the houses?
I have four cats: Katt, Kabuki, Huxley and Allie, Allie because I rescued her from an alley in the Bronx, and they don’t bother with this, they really couldn’t care less about it. Every so often, an M & M on the floor, they’ll chase it until I take it away from them, but the houses themselves, they walk freely amongst them, they couldn’t care less. They DO like the leftover egg yolks, though.
Do YOU eat the houses while you’re making them, like we would?
You couldn’t pay me to eat these houses. I’m around them day in and day out for 23 years. I have no interest in eating them. You look at this and what do you see?
CANDY! I LOVE CANDY!
Yes, but for me, I’m not interested in that stuff anymore. I’m around it constantly – 365 days a year I’m around Christmas and gingerbread houses. I’d much rather taste pizza, halal, or a good matzoh ball soup, and pastrami from Katz’ Deli, you got me, but this stuff…no way.
How does it feel to be a World’s Record Holder?
Pretty cool. It’s pretty exciting to know that nobody else in the world can say that they can do this bigger than I can and it’s also pretty cool that some of the people I compete with work in groups of 40 or 50 and I work alone! It’s pretty neat.
Do you get a trophy or something?
No, just a lot of credit card debt. (LOL!)
When you give the houses away at the end of the season, do you feel happy or sad and why?
I do feel happy, I do feel sad. It’s nice that they’re going to a good home and they’re not going into a dumpster or a landfill, but it’s also sad because your whole year’s work, 11 months of work is gone in three hours. That’s kind of sad. At the beginning of the day, you’re so happy, you see a line, 3 or 4 hundred people waiting to take your work and that’s really awesome. And at the end of the day it’s all empty and you just look at it and say, wow, ten months and there’s nothing left. Then there’s the excitement of starting over, so it’s both happy and sad.
What advice would you give to kids who want to make a difference in the world, like you do?
Know that you can. Know that it’s possible to make a difference. I started out by decorating my house with lights when I was ten years old and I just wanted to do something big and massive that people will remember. That’s why I gave up being a chef to do this, because I realized I was making more of an impact with this. As a chef, you could love my dinner, but at some point you will forget about my dinner. It takes a long time to forget about this – it’s always on Instagram, it’s always on twitter, it’s always on snapchat, well, for a few minutes it is, so this is how I made a difference. I tell kids who want to make a difference, “You absolutely can! You don’t have to be the President or Derek Jeter, you can make a difference just doing day to day things.” There are so many examples on this planet of people making a difference by doing something small.
Mom here for some final thoughts…I want to thank Jon for taking the time to meet with us and taking the kids “behind the ropes” for one of their sweetest experiences yet (pun intended)! He is genuinely a great guy who has followed his passion to make a difference in many people’s lives, and he certainly made a difference in ours. If you haven’t taken your kids to see this amazing display of fabulous gingerbread houses, none of which have fallen apart and suffered the fate of becoming edible Christmas cards, all of which are truly unique and adorable, there is still time! Catch these houses, and the Gingerbread Man, before January 16th. On that day, you may just catch me on line waiting to take one home. Hmm, with one of those houses around, I may not even have to make my yearly attempt at making a gingerbread house and use the time to go see next year’s Gingerbread Lane. Sweet.
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