Salisbury baker featured in Food Network gingerbread competition

JIM SULLIVAN/Staff photoSeaglass Restaurant and Lounge general manager Jim Shalkoski stands next to his latest gingerbread house.

SALISBURY — The man behind Seaglass Restaurant and Lounge's annual gingerbread house is ready to show off his latest masterpiece tonight ahead of his national TV debut next week.

Jim Shalkoski, the restaurant's general manager, has spent the past nine Christmas seasons moonlighting as a "gingineer" and building gingerbread houses more than 6 feet tall that greet visitors in Seaglass' front lobby.

While Shalkoski went with a Santa’s toy factory theme last year, he is looking to the classic children's TV special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" for inspiration in 2019.

"I called this 'The Iceman Cometh,'" Shalkoski said.

The 10-foot-high confectionery structure will feature nine Bumble the Abominable Snow Monsters — made from modeling chocolate and icing — taking over Santa's toy factory, just days before Christmas.

"I like it to have a universal appearance which would apply to all ages, whether it be kids or adults," Shalkoski said. "I have seen the Bumble character kind of everywhere and I think it's fun and different. He's a bit of a misunderstood character that is ferocious at first, but everyone falls in love with him by the end of the show. I think there's a lot there as far as using that particular character."

A good gingerbread house is not merely impressive but funny as well, according to Shalkoski. His gingerbread houses have become so well known that he was picked as a contestant for The Food Network's "Holiday Gingerbread Showdown," which premieres Nov. 30.

"It's a bit of a tips and tricks show, in addition to being a contest," he said. "Obviously, gingerbread is a very particular skill set that not a lot of people have and not a lot of bakers have. It is very different than just making a cake or 3-D cookies or anything like that. You have to have a knowledge of the structural element of it, the engineering of it, then obviously the art of it and the baking portion."

Shalkoski said he is one of only nine contestants for the show and was picked from across the nation. Each baker was given 10 hours to design and make a gingerbread house over the summer.

"It was a great show to work on and I was really blown away just by the production staff and the producers themselves and how much they knew about gingerbread," Shalkoski said. "That was really bizarre to me."

Although Shalkoski has sworn to secrecy about what happens on the show, he did say the theme of his episode is "The Worst Christmas Ever."

The Seaglass gingerbread house will be officially lighted this evening at 6.

"The Boys & Girls Club of Lower Merrimack Valley will be there and we invite the public to come," said Atlantic Hospitality Group Director Kathy Aiello. "We will just gather around the lobby and countdown. The kids will light the switch with Jim and the whole thing lights up."

Each of Shalkoski's gingerbread structures take about six months to plan and execute.

"I've been doing about 90 hours a week on it over the past month alone," he said.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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