Beautiful Gingerbread Sleigh Graces Sporting Club

Amy Mills, Executive Pastry Chef for The Greenbrier Sporting Club, has always created a spectacular holiday season gingerbread house…usually a replica of one of the club’s many landmarks throughout the property. This year, Mills broke out of her mold and instead designed and built a magical gingerbread sleigh full of vintage gifts of yesterday—an homage to the spirit and togetherness this time of year beckons in all of us. Amy took a moment to sit down and share some of her ideas in the short Q&A below:

What made you decide to create a Gingerbread Sleigh this year? In the past we have created the Equestrian Center and The Lodge, The Summit Activities Barn and Summit Lodge and we have also done a couple villages, so this year we wanted to do something different. We really didn’t want to limit ourselves to doing just gingerbread houses so we thought about some different avenues. We asked for input from our fellow departments and team mates for the ideas we had in mind and it was a toss up between The Old White Hotel, which was the beginnings of what “The Greenbrier” is today, Whooville from The Grinch, or a sleigh filled with our fondest memories from childhood. The sleigh won unanimously and as soon as we started asking for ideas for the sleds contents, you could see the excitement in their eyes as they would tell of the toys that would occupy their time on cold winter days, not necessarily Christmas morning, but their favorite toys in general.

What kind of message does this year’s creation convey? We don’t at all want to emphasize that the meaning of Christmas or the holidays is all about toys, because it isn’t. We just want you to look at our gingerbread display as just that, an awesome smelling, edible centerpiece that will bring back memories of holidays past and our childhood.

How did your team go about developing this sleigh? As soon as our concept was apparent, we looked for pictures of sleds that could be built with structural integrity and to hold a lot of gingerbread, fondant, chocolate and royal icing decorations. We needed to decide on a size of our showpiece and decided to go big for a dramatic effect and also to incorporate many items to place inside the sleigh. We took our picture and drew out to scale and then fit all of the pieces together to make sure of a sturdy design. After that it was off to our wonderful maintenance department who then helped out with bracing our piece. 20 sheet pans of gingerbread were rolled out and cut to the exact dimension and glued into place with chocolate. The sled was decorated with royal icing and placed on a board covered with royal icing “snow.” That seemed to be the easy job only taking a few days, but the intense part was about to begin.

And how long and how many people does it take to pull something like this off? Staff from both The Lodge and The Summit kitchens was eager to lend a helping hand in recreating their favorite toys. Most all of them brought back memories for me and I was so excited to see in them what I feel everyday when I get to create. It was a lot of hard work and many hours spent, but I believe it is something we are all proud of as a team and something our members will enjoy to look at and smell this holiday season. It took over a week to complete the project, some items taking as much as 8 hours each. Twelve chefs and kitchen staff participated.

About Amy Mills: My interest in cooking started at a very young age. As a child, my mother would set me up on the kitchen counter and let me stir the pots on the stove as she talked me through what was on the menu for the day. The influence of preparing good food was instilled in me early and definitely had sparked my interest in culinary arts.
The years seemed to pass by and the desire to learn about food was still there, so I signed up for Food Service class in high school and also took a job as a short order cook. After working for 2 years, and the encouragement of a great instructor, I decided that cooking was what I wanted to pursue as a career, and scouted out Johnson and Wales University, in Charleston, South Carolina. After taking Advanced Standing and attending college, I received an Associates of Science degree in Culinary Arts in 1992, but before graduation, I realized that I was even more passionate about pastries and continued my education to receive another 
Associates degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, through Advanced Standing, in 1993. Upon returning back to my roots in Hinton, West Virginia, I worked at a local bakery until a job was available at the famous Greenbrier resort, in White Sulphur Springs, WV, where I was hired under the leadership of Executive Chef Walter Shieb. Starting at the bottom and ending up as Lead Pastry Chef and Wedding Cake Decorator, was where I spent over 10 years, learning under the instruction of many great chefs such as Master Chef Peter Timmins. In 2004, I was offered a position at The Greenbrier Sporting Club as Pastry Chef. I am responsible for all pastry production for our lodge and our new Summit lodge. I am also apart of an amazing team that was fortunate to have been able to cook at the James Beard House in 2006.