Franklin — Since studying baking and pastry arts at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Franklin resident Kim Thalman has created six gingerbread creations — none of them a house.
"I actually never made a Christmas gingerbread house," she said. "They're a little bit cliché ... and it's not my style."
Her style is reflected in the image of two gingerbread panda bears eating bamboo, a creation that won her the title of Champion Chef at the 21st annual National Gingerbread House competition in North Carolina last month.
The panda concept — which began as an inside joke with a friend — won Thalman $5,000 and other awards, including a two-night stay at The Grove Park Inn (the host of the competition) and a two-day sugar arts class with renowned cake decorator Nicholas Lodge.
There were about 150 entries to the competition.
"I'm kind of in shock about it," she said.
The art of gingerbread
As a dessert decorator for C. Adam's Bakery in the Milwaukee Public Market, Thalman knows how to make her creations look good.
"I think what made me stand out (in the competition) was that the whole thing was carved," she said. "Gingerbread is more versatile than cake, so I used a technique that I got out of a wood-carving book."
From the time she started the gingerbread project on Oct. 1 to the date of the competition, Thalman estimated that she had put more than 150 hours into the creation.
"You just have to dive in and have fun with it," she said.
When all was said and done, Thalman carefully placed the 10-pound project in the back of her van and drove to the competition.
Second time's a charm
She had participated in the contest once before, in 2012, but did not make the top 10.
"I was just testing the waters" by entering a gingerbread puppet theater, she said.
Having redeemed herself as the Champion Chef this year, Thalman said, she's been given a lot of praise by family, friends and her employer.
"The bakery put up a big poster of me and my pandas in the market," she said, "so work's pretty proud of me, too."
The question is, will she compete again next year?
"Oh, definitely," she laughed. "You've got to defend your title."
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