By Chef Vincent Tropepe
Every year around this time, the White House Executive Pastry Chef and their brigade unveils a gingerbread sculpture. Sometimes the theme of the sculpture is decided upon the First Lady and other times the Executive Pastry Chef is given full creative control. I thought it would be interesting to see how this delicious White House tradition has evolved through the years in pictures.
The very first Christmas gingerbread structure, was assembled in 1969 for the Nixon’s first Christmas. Assistant Executive Chef Hans Rafferty created a gingerbread house in a traditional German A frame style. Pictured with the gingerbread house is President Nixon’s daughter Tricia.
In 1971, making a gingerbread house at the White House had become an official White House tradition and a responsibility of the pastry team. It was also in 1971, that it became a formalized portion of the holiday festivities that was overseen by the Office of the First Lady. Pictured here is First Lady Patricia Nixon and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhauser looking at the decorated gingerbread house.
Chef Hans Raffert continued the gingerbread house in the style of an A frame house. In 1975, for the Ford Presidency, Chef Rafferty was inspired by Hansel and Gretel.
In 1977, Chef Rafferty decided to make the A frame ginger bread house on a much larger scale. Pictured here is Amy Carter.
For the Carter’s last Christmas in 1980, Chef Rafferty enhanced the setting of the A frame house with gingerbread men and frosted trees.
Chef Raffert and First Lady Nancy Reagen and Rex the Reagen’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel at the unveiling in December 1984.
Santa Claus joined Chef Raffert and Nancy Reagen at the 1988 unveiling in the State Dining Room of the White House.
First Lady Barbara Bush with Chef Raffert standing beside what would be Chef Raffert’s last White House ginger bread house in 1991.
Executive Pastry Chef Roland Messier introduced themed ginger bread displays to the White House as a new Christmas tradition. His first display for President George H.W. Bush was an American Christmas Village with five ginger bread houses in a wintery setting. Pictured in above, he is with assistant Marlene Roudebugh as she forms a marzipan Santa in 1992.
Each year Chef Messier selected a different subject to become the annual ginger bread structure. This ginger bread White House from 1993 for the Clinton’s was built to scale and was titled “The House of Socks“. It featured 22 marzipan sculptures of the first family’s famous cat.
Chef Roland Messier in 1994 selected President Clinton’s childhood home in Hot Springs, Arkansas as the subject for that year’s ginger bread sculpture.
In 1995, Chef Messier created First Lady Hilary Clinton’s childhood home in Park Ridge, IL as his ginger bread subject. Chef Messier is pictured here with Assistant Susie Morrison.
After recreating both the President and First Lady’s childhood home, Chef Messier created the story of The Nutcracker ballet that first daughter Chelsea Clinton danced with the Washington ballet in 1996.
In 1998, Chef Messier created a Winter Wonderland castle in ginger bread. His goal was to capture a fairy tale like sculpture.
For the millennium celebration, Chef Messier created a ginger bread landscape of the national monuments in the nation’s capital. Not only did it include the White House, but the landscape included The Washington Monument, The Jefferson Memorial, and across the Potomac, President George Washington’s Mont Vernon.
In 2001, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush wanted a “Home for the Holidays” themed gingerbread house that conveyed the importance of family and strength at home after the tragic events of September 11th. On the top of the house has a waving American flag with two angels on each side.
“All Creatures Great and Small” was the theme then First Lady Laura Bush wanted for the gingerbread structure in 2002. Throughout the display are marzipan figures of presidential pets. In addition to the first family’s dog and cat was Caroline Kennedy’s pet pony and John Quincy Adam’s pet alligator.
Two years after Chef Mesneir retired, First Lady Laura Bush asked him to return to make the 2004 gingerbread house with the theme of “The Red and White House”. It was covered in red bows and over 850 handmade sugar snow flakes.
Executive Pastry Chef William Yosses’ holiday White House was the very first time it was completely made of white chocolate instead of ginger bread.
Pastry Chef Susie Morrison make the last minute additions to the white chocolate White House in 2010 for the Obama’s. First dog, Bo stands guard out front. In 2014, Chef Morrison was promoted to Executive Pastry Chef making her the first women to hold that position in the White House.
In December 2019, the structure featured replicas of the White House South Portico,, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Space Needle, Mount Rushmore, the Alamo, the Gateway Arch, the Liberty Bell, and the Statue of Liberty, In total, 200 pounds of ginger bread, 125 pounds of pastille, 35 pounds of chocolate and 25 pounds of royal icing was used to create it.
The White House, besides being the people’s house and the most recognizable structures in the world not only offers history, but also offers and promotes a culinary and pastry craftsmanship with meaningful themes and to transform raw ingredients into something that showcases the very best in who we are as a country.