A burnt-orange-clad Matthew McConaughey grins from the big screen at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, where the seats are awash with fans.
But look closely and you’ll notice that this particular big-screen TV is actually quite small — and edible. And those fans? They’re really the rainbow-hued candy Nerds.
When it comes to the Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s Gingerbread Village, which went on display Nov. 25, no detail is spared.
"It’s going to be the largest we’ve ever done, more houses than we’ve ever done, more square footage than we’ve ever done," said Amanda Pallagi-Naim, executive pastry chef of Four Seasons Hotel Austin. "It’s started getting kind of out of the box. We have fun with that."
Brainstorming for the annual Gingerbread Village begins in March, and the pastry team, which consists of seven people, including Pallagi-Naim, starts construction in July.
"We’re playing Christmas music in the summertime and smelling gingerbread," Pallagi-Naim said. "By the time we put it up, it’s not even Thanksgiving, but we’re in the full holiday spirit."
Pallagi-Naim estimated that the team put more than 500 volunteer hours into this year’s display, for which the theme is friendship. She said the hotel has for more than a decade used the same recipe for gingerbread, which is "not necessarily your most tasty gingerbread — it’s made for structurally sound building."
More than 200 pounds of gingerbread were used for this year’s display, Pallagi-Naim said, and 100 pounds of powdered sugar went into the royal icing that the staff mixed up like magical elves the night before the display went public to drizzle across the buildings. Despite all of her work with it, "I like gingerbread, honestly," Pallagi-Naim said. "It hasn’t made me bitter toward it."
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This year’s village features six snow globe-style displays, including a 6-foot-wide Austin-themed dome that incorporates both the skyline and a collage of famous landmarks, such as Barton Springs, the Capitol, an Austin City Limits Music Festival stage, Franklin Barbecue, Hey Cupcake and, yes, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Look closely and you may also spy a party barge, a food truck park and even a pedicab.
In addition to the Austin dome, there are five 3-foot-wide domes that each depict the skyline and landmarks of a different Austin sister city: Angers, France; Oita, Japan; Koblenz, Germany; Saltillo, Mexico; and Adelaide, Australia.
Sponsorships are available for each of the domes, with proceeds benefiting People’s Community Clinic, a nonprofit that aims to improve the health of medically underserved and uninsured Central Texans by providing high quality, affordable health care. Since 2005, the hotel’s gingerbread villages, which in past years incorporated themes of Candyland, the Grinch and the Wild West, have raised more than $80,000 for local nonprofits.
"We love it because it gives back to the community. We feel really great about that portion of it," Pallagi-Naim said. "It’s our chance to show what we can do and feature our department and our talents. It also gets us in the holiday spirit."