GREENSBORO, Ga. - Its makers call it the biggest gingerbread house in the South. What they cannot call it is dietetic. Made of 650 pounds of flour, 300 pounds of sugar, 300 pounds of icing, 20 pounds of chocolate, 65 pounds of assorted candies, and 3,000 gingerbread cookies, this colossal creation isn't likely to be part of anyone's weight-loss regimen.
Built in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, the house has become an annual holiday event.
"This year, the gingerbread house will be about 20-by-15 feet, two stories high, and built around a wooden frame; it's a house you can literally walk through," said Scott Gambone, executive chef. "But you could never eat enough of the house to get to the wood - you'd get sick as a dog first."
The design is fairy-tale cottage, Gambone said, and is the first part of an ongoing holiday observation at the luxury hotel 75 miles east of Atlanta. On Wednesday, the hotel will host its sixth annual Lighting of the Lodge, when some 1.2 million lights will illuminate the 251-room hotel on the shores of Lake Oconee, said Sandyn Shaw, public relations manager.
"They started stringing the lights in August; they go all around the hotel exterior, in the trees, on the grounds. It's just a massive display of white lights," Shaw said.
The public is invited to take part in the lighting celebration, and the hotel will make a donation to Greensboro Dreamers, part of the international I Have a Dream Foundation. Last year, the hotel gave $30,000 to the nonprofit organization, Shaw said.
On Thanksgiving Day, the hotel is scheduled to host a brunch that includes a Chef's Challenge that will allow diners to be judges.
"Antony Fernandez, our executive pastry chef and an entrant in the 2009 World Pastry Competition, is making a gigantic showpiece of chocolate to award the winner," Gambone said of the contest, which is new this year.
Continuing the holiday celebration will be Christmas Across the USA at a Christmas Day brunch. A giant map of the United States will be laid out across the floor of the ballroom, and diners will get handouts explaining where the food they're eating is from.
"You could be sitting on the New Mexico part of the map, for example, and be eating New England clam chowder," Gambone said. "It's a celebration of American food; it'll be a lot of fun."
New Year's Eve will run hot and cold - literally, Gambone said. Dubbed Fire and Ice, the party ballroom will be divided by a diaphanous fabric, with one side of the room bedecked in thermally thematic reds and oranges, the other blacks, blues, and whites.
"We'll have two huge luges carved out of ice holding giant martini glasses," Gambone said. "We'll have red- and blue-colored martinis swirling down from them into glasses for people to drink."
Even the menus are part of the show; hot food will be listed on warmed menus, cool food on chilled ones. "It will be a contrast of food temperatures and spices," Gambone said, adding that diners could, for example, expect things like spicy barbecue shrimp with a frozen dressing.
"We're not trendy but current and relevant to the demands of our customers," he said of what he terms a cutting-edge approach to holiday celebrating. "You won't see a carved ice goose at our functions."
Food and beverage income drives this Ritz, he said, far more than rooms, and "that's something not a lot of hotels can say."
The Ritz features a range of upscale dining throughout the year, with seating for about 600 at three restaurants: Georgia's, Linger Longer Bar & Grill, and Gaby's by the Lake, the latter undergoing a $3.2 million expansion that is slated to be completed by spring.
One of the most unique dining opportunities is the lakeside chiminea, a romantic three-course dinner for two by the lake for $125 per person. Couples are shuttled down to the lake to sit in Adirondack chairs by the water, warmed by chiminea fires, with food brought down by their own personal concierge.
Though he's serious about the art of cooking, Gambone has a mischievous side. When Fernandez delivers his towering edible trophy to the winner of the Chef's Challenge, he might find it more challenging than he imagined.
"I'm thinking of building a little obstacle course for him to get through," Gambone said. "That should liven things up."
Paul E. Kandarian, a freelance writer in Taunton, can be reached at email@example.com.