ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it wouldn't be shocking for you to find Hotel Captain Cook Pastry Chef Joe Hickel bouncing between being inside, in an open space near the storied Whale's Tail bar, and outside, a window separating him from his latest creation: A giant gingerbread village, erected every holiday season for the past four decades.
"It's just overwhelming," Hickel said, laughing. "Forty-one years of doing this."
Many different ingredients help bring the Hotel Captain Cook's annual gingerbread display to life, but perhaps more prominent than the icing, chocolate sheets, and various kinds of candy you'll see as soon as you walk up to it, is what's behind the magic. Hickel is the pastry chef who, for almost half a century, has put the village together piece by piece each holiday season.
He starts baking in August, and works through early December to build his masterful creation from the ground up, all with a theme for every single building, tree and various other figurines in mind.
This year, the village is named after Hickel's older daughter, Marina. Scattered throughout are homages to friends, family and mentors of Hickel. His display for this season took about 12 days to put up, and around 110 man hours to put together.
Marina's Village is made with lots of sweet ingredients. Per giant batch of icing - of which there are at least a dozen - there's about 100 pounds of powdered sugar, two gallons of water, 30 oz of cream of tartar, and 6 pounds of meringue powder.
"There is a relief that it's done, just because I want to get it done so everybody can enjoy it," Hickel said, "and I can go downstairs and start working in the bake shop. But there's also a thing, like, 'Aww, man, it's done.'
"And it came out incredibly good," he said. "It came out so cool."
Check out the video above to get a tour of the village!
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