Building a Tradition
In Chef B’s kitchen, gingerbread houses signal the end of the fall semester and the beginning of the holiday season. Last week, houses in different stages of the creative process lined the walls as students scurried around, searching for just the right touch to complete their project. Bowls of frosting in various holiday colors sat nearby, ready to be deployed as design elements or as an adhesive to attach an Oreo to the wall. Close by were bags of gumdrops and candy canes, ready to be added to the designs.
For Paula Bystrzycki, known as Chef B to all of her students, this year is part of a tradition that dates back nearly 50 years when students began creating gingerbread houses under the guidance of the teacher at the time, John Carroll. As a 1980 graduate of SJA, Chef B remembers making gingerbread houses as a student and can trace the tradition back further to Jerry Prevost ’77, who she recalls made them when he was a student. Headmaster Sharon Howell comments “I didn’t know making end-of-term gingerbread houses was a tradition until now, but I love it. It’s such an opportunity for students to be whimsical with designs and have some fun as the break approaches. So grateful to Chef B for doing all she does for students and the whole community.” This traditional final project has been bringing joy to the SJA community for many years and will continue to do so.
According to Chef B, when Jerry returned to the school as a teacher in 1990, his students could count on gingerbread houses as their final project before break, and when Chef B returned in 2000, the tradition continued. Now, over 20 years later, students can still expect to be making gingerbread houses to end the semester. Headmaster Howell shares that no other school she’s been to has had “a culinary program with anywhere near the standards, professionalism, and excellence of SJA’s. People here might not realize how unique it is for most high schools (outside of Vermont) to be teaching authentic baking and cooking skills, and both taking it seriously as training for a trade and offering it as something for all students to explore.” The SJA culinary program is unlike any other and opens the doors for students to express their creativity and share their work.
This year, students are not just making gingerbread houses, but gingerbread trees and a merry-go-round can be seen on display. Chef B explains that she tries to mimic the famous gingerbread house competition they hold at The Grove Park Inn in Ashville, North Carolina every year. She says “I have tried to show students how they can be creative.” Headmaster Howell adds that “the ingenuity of these gingerbread houses is delightful to see. I’ve never seen a gingerbread treehouse, but it’s fully in the spirit of fairy tales! I love the frosted-mini-wheat roof tiles, too. I’ve not seen such creative interpretations that are also just beautiful.” This year is the 29th year of the famous Grove Park Inn competition, where bakers will push the limits with their creations, just as Chef B encourages SJA students to do!
The SJA gingerbread houses are on display on Eastern Ave through the holidays in the windows between Star Theatre and Northern Counties Express Care. Next time you’re passing through, be sure to take a look at the student’s work!