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Photos: Take A Ride On The Gingerbread Express

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Dec 17, 2013 4:45PM

Gingerbread houses serve gingerbread men and women perfectly well. But if the old adage is true and the only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys (yes, we know exactly how that sounds), then gingerbread houses are under a mandate to grow in scale with those of us made out of materials other than confectioners’ sugar. Size may not be everything, but it’s something, and a bigger gingerbread edifice is just more impressive than a smaller one. Fortunately Executive Chef Randy Reed of the InterContinental and Executive Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy and his team at the Trump Hotel have heard and met the demand, crafting a life-size gingerbread demesne and edible elevator—so you can lick the tuck pointing at eye level like you’re supposed to do.

Last week we took a ride in the Trump Gingerbread Express, a seasonal divagation to rival the CTA Holiday Train (and easier to catch too). This year marks the second that Fahy and team, including Ligia Mihut, assembled more than 1,000 gingerbread bricks to escort you to Sixteen while encouraging you to donate to St. Jude’s.

Explaining the assembly process, Mihut told us, “We used 200 pounds of sugar and tripled the amount of spices—ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, molasses, cloves—we used last year so the aroma would be even stronger inside. We stopped counting tiles at 830, but I know we have more than 1,000. Many we keep stored in the cooler for maintenance, which we do daily.”

Making the tiles alone required a full week, according to Mihut. Needless to say, that involved enough rolling-pin action to work up an appetite.

“I ate three tiles myself just snacking while I worked,” she said with a laugh. “Then because the engineers needed to work on the elevator while we were applying the tiles, we had to ride it up and down while making the Gingerbread Express. Some of us got motion sickness, but we had so much fun.”

Step inside the elevator and you’ll gaze out a picture window to a mise-en-scene of the Austrian Alps under starlight while activating a toy train overhead via motion sensor. The 4-foot-tall candy cane door posts that usher you inside, for the record, are solid chocolate.

Meanwhile at the Intercontinental, a few small steps away for humankind—a helluva trek for a gingerbread person—a 10-foot tall gingerbread house awaits your continued wonder. Reed employed nothing less than 500 pounds of flour, 110 pounds of butter and 1,020 eggs to erect his edible chateau, whimsically festooned with 320 peppermint candles, 300 caramel bulls eyes and 36 jumbo candy canes.

Standing at 6’10”, Reed was dwarfed by his creation, which evokes a Swiss Alpine home, one whose dough he began making as early as late September. Construction, he admitted, involved its share of trial and error.

“The main challenges were environmental, particularly the humidity, which caused some of the gingerbread to crack. After we started building it, we discovered a heating vent near the entrance. It dried everything out and we had to rebuild the house completely. The cold air has since frosted the windows, but that makes for a nice effect fortunately.”

Hotel guests and employees who witnessed him assembling his house before Halloween often asked him why he was taking such pains for a structure that wouldn’t outlast 2013.

“When people ask me ‘What’s it for?’ my answer is always the same. ‘Did it make you smile?’ If I see a smile, that’s their answer.”