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Local architects and bakers craft OMSI gingerbread exhibit, which is on display through Jan. 1

COURTESY PHOTO - The 'Gingerbread Adventures' exhibit at OMSI teaches people of all ages about building the edible structures. The theme is 'Illusions,' and it's an exhibit open through Jan. 1.The hundreds of pounds of candy and gingerbread here are all edible. You could eat it, or just lick it — but it's not recommended.

The five teams of local bakers and architects who spent the past two months creating out-of-this-world creations for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's second annual "Gingerbread Adventures" display had to think outside of the box when working with sugar.

"We had to buy a lot of candies that will hold up; I'm always thinking about moisture," says Jie "Kit" Zhu, Bon Appetit's executive chef at OMSI, one of the bakers on the project. "If any candy sits out uncovered, it starts melting."

Free with admission to the museum, the display, which runs through Jan. 1, features towering sculptures, sweet science demonstrations, cookie lab experiments, and build-it-yourself workshops that are focused on the theme "Illusions," to match OMSI's other exhibit underway.

Sponsored by New Seasons, the display highlights the innovation and food science — not to mention the biology, technology, engineering, architecture and physics — that goes into assembling such elaborate sculptures.

Zhu and his team at Bon Appetit, which runs the food venue at OMSI, worked with Soderstrom Architects and Bon Appetit Management Company.

The other teams included: SRG Partnership and Nothing Bundt Cakes; LRS Architects and JaCiva's Bakery; ZGF Architects and Papa Haydn; and Dangermond Keane Architecture & Sugar Street Portland.

With so much talent at the table, it was an exciting process, Zhu says.

"I loved the camaraderie and brainstorming of coming up with something unique," he says. They started with no limits, then thought about how it might be structured, and how it might be built while remaining structurally sound for a month and a half.

"We start building, and come up with random ideas of adding things," like bridges, Zhu says. "We built some using sticks; we bought spaghetti; we were playing with all kinds of stuff."

With a desire to create movement in their art, the team tried to add a mechanical element, a crane. But that didn't quite pan out as did their rotating lighted solar system last year.

"We ran out of time, so we just made it look really nice," he says.

They also attempted a 3-D illusion mirror effect, which didn't turn out as planned due to a mirror snafu.

So they did the best with what they had, which was about 40 pounds of gingerbread, about 40 pounds of candy — some 30 varieties — and power tools, tiny saws and sandpaper to craft their design.

In the end, the team was pleased with the result. Visitors will get to vote for their choice of the winning creation on Dec. 9. In the end, everyone wins.

"Gingerbread is pretty epic," Zhu says. "It smells great."

Events associated with "Gingerbread Adventures": On Dec. 9, go for live holiday musical performances at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and vote for your favorite sculpture to win the People's Choice Award; from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and Dec. 19, adults are invited to attend a food science workshop called "How does the cookie crumble?" Design, build and test your own quake-proof gingerbread house. $18 per house (up to two people per house).

For more: www.omsi.edu.

@jenmomanderson

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