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VISD food services face off in battle of gingerbread houses

By Carolina Astrain
Dec. 14, 2012 at 6:14 a.m.

Schorlemmer Elementary School's food services team headed by Kristy Armstrong took first place in the districtwide gingerbread house competition.

A high-pitched gasp of disbelief and excitement came from service managers as they learned they had one of the top three gingerbread houses in the school district.

For the past 25 years, Victoria school district cafeterias have faced off in a gingerbread house competition at Christmas.

This year, longtime champion Kristy Armstrong, food services manager at Schorlemmer Elementary School, took first place and the People's Choice award with a cyan-colored house with a Frosted Mini-Wheats and Heath bars roof and an intricately frosted cobblestone brick design.

Armstrong said she had a team of five working to finish the "Blue Christmas" themed house over the course of four days.

"One of my ladies got the actual stones over the summer," Armstrong said. "It's rock candy she ordered online."

This was Armstrong's third time to take first place while working at Schorlemmer.

"This year we got our candy later than usual," Armstrong said. "Everybody was scurrying to get them together."

The frosted snow on the front lawn proved to be the most challenging part of the winning team's design.

"It's icing and powdered sugar but it likes to correct itself," Armstrong said. "That was the hardest thing."

Howell Middle School and Smith Elementary tied for second place.

A large, golden star marked the center of the carousel-inspired gazebo submitted by Howell's food services team of seven.

"We just wanted to do something different," said food services manager Maggie Cabrera. "Even though we've been shorthanded in the kitchen, we all worked together to create the house."

Handcrafted poinsettias on the Howell structure were sculpted by food services specialist Veronica Levario.

"It was my first time making them," Levario said. "It took about three hours or less."

A polished, crisp more traditional design that came out of Smith Elementary's cafeteria was solely constructed by manager Laura Chapman.

"It took a lot of patience," Chapman said. "I used oil icing to make it; it took hours letting all the different layers dry."

One year, Chapman said, she placed first with a gingerbread house designed after St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Victoria.

Aloe Elementary School placed third with a restaurant-themed design.

This was Aloe Elementary food services manager Rose Martinez's first time leading the design.

"There was a little bit more pressure," Martinez said. "I wasn't planning on doing one, but they told us we didn't have an option."

After 22 years of working in VISD cafeterias, Martinez took the promotion to manager last January.

"We've been doing this for so many years that we run out of ideas after a while," Martinez said.

Three people on their team worked on the design.

"We got together at somebody's house and worked on it," Martinez said. "We looked online trying to find different designs."

After the final results are tallied up, the houses are returned to their campuses and given to a student to take home.

"These children tug at your heart," Armstrong said. "We see them here almost everyday."

The district awards the winning teams prizes for placing in the top three slots, said district food services field supervisor Yolanda Cuellar.

"In the past we've given out new knives, T-shirts and aprons," Cuellar said. "We still have to figure out what we'll be giving them this year."

Planning for the houses can start as soon as the prior year's results are announced.

"We're already planning for next year," Chapman said. "It gets competitive between the schools, but it's all in fun."

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