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I first met Elizabeth, head pastry chef at Kona Village Resort, on a family trip to Hawaii when I was about 10 years old. She used to let my sister and I come into the kitchen where we would be able to watch her plate desserts. It was always so exciting to see the hustle and bustle going on behind the scenes. It was a few years later that I began to hear about the wonderful gingerbread work that Elizabeth would do for Christmas at Kona Village.  I have always been enamored by the time, creativity and intricate detailing that goes into building gingerbread structures. This year I had the pleasure of speaking with Elizabeth about her craft.

Elizabeth Therialt, Dessert Chef

Kona Village Resort, Hawaii

Answers are paraphrased from a phone interview

1) How did you become a pastry chef? What drew you to this field?

Baking has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a family of hunters, bakers, fishermen and gardeners. I knew that baking was an expression of love. It was a way to be able to give and please people. My uncle and grandfather were bakers in a commercial setting. My grandfather was actually called “Whitey” because he was in charge of the flour and sugar and was often found covered in a light dusting of white powder. Both my Grandmothers were bakers as well; one for the school system and one for the other harvesters. I always baked as a hobby, but didn’t consider it as a career until I took a course in Cooking for Wellness at The Polarity Health Institute in Washington. Later on I took pastry at the University of Hawaii.

2) You are known for the amazing Gingerbread structures you create for the Holidays at Kona Village. When did you begin this tradition?

I began doing the gingerbread houses in 1995. This is the 15th gingerbread house that I have made. My third year of building the houses I actually made two structures; one for each restaurant (which was a huge undertaking). I am a storyteller and use the gingerbread as my medium. I try to present my point of view of the Hawaiian culture.

3) Where do you get your inspiration from?

I grew up in Fresno, California; many of my family trips were to Disneyland, which has greatly affected my imagination. It is based on this thought process of imagineering that I find inspiration for my gingerbread houses. I want to create a fantasy within my pieces. I create mini scavenger hunts in the structure. Allowing the guests to try and figure out what items were used to create the structure. It’s following in the spirit of discerning what is and is not real in ones own life. Many times the guests visit and revisit the pieces and each time discover some new detail or element to the piece.

This year’s theme is based on Kalaemano – a property just North of Kona Village. The learning center and path to the ocean is the main focal point of the property. My themes are based on what captures my heart.


Petroglyphs Ki’i Pohaku

Breadfruit Tree

Learning Center’s Amphitheater

4) What goes into building a gingerbread house?

Some years the maintenance crew helps me build the wooden structure, while other years I choose not to engage in that collaboration. When I am building these structures I strive to create as much as I can out of edible materials. Everything comes from the land or the kitchen.  When I am unable to use food for certain parts of the structure I will turn to other supplies found in the kitchen such as ice cream cartons and asparagus crates. It is a structure completely comprised of renewable parts.

Each gingerbread structure takes 100 + hours to build. This years structure has the thatching made of shredded wheat, the lava is a powdered sugar/gelatin mixture that is baked and burnt, the sand is made of rice-krispies, sesame seeds and white rice, the grass is dyed coconut, and the benches are made of vanilla beans. The entire structure is held together with gingerbread cement which uses about 75 pounds of powdered sugar and 50 egg whites!

5) When do you begin planning/building the gingerbread house?

In thought, the planning begins the day after or during the previous years design. In action, I begin in September or October.

6) You are not only an extremely talented pastry chef, but you have quite a number of other jobs and hobbies. Please tell us a little about what makes you so special.

My ‘specialness’ is no different than anyone elses, we are however each ‘unique’ unto ourselves. We each have an individual connection to the divine and I am blessed to use that connection. I just prioritize it. I have a passion for passion. I find the delight in the unusual and in the spiritual cleverness in the unexpected and the creative presentation of spirit. That is what I look for. I try to see the weaving of the creative mastery that goes on around us. The drum in particular has caught my heart. Every rhythm of life has a heart beat. During the year before I joined the staff at Kona Village I spent time in Sedona where I made my first drum. So really both drumming and pastry came to me around the same time in my life. It allows me to know love and be loved in the most expanded way possible.

Here are some pictures from the gingerbread structures that Chef Elizabeth has created in the past

Hale Samoa Restaraunt

Hale Moana Restaraunt

Maori Hale (guest bungalow)

Kona Village Fitness Center

Kona Village Gate House

Kona Village Reception Center with Staff

Chocolate Pahu Drum and Honu

Hale Samoa Restaurant at Night


One Response

  1. What a joy to see Elizabeth’s creations! We were at Kona Village Dec. 4 through Dec. 14th and my 2 youngest daughters, Emma and Alexandra were lucky enugh to be invited into Elizabeth’s “Bakery Hale” and watch her work. They came running to our hale telling me what they had just seen and how wonderfully nice Elizabeth was to invite them into her hale and watch her work. I was so jealous, so told the girls to take me back to her hale….They politely said, “Sorry mama, its only for us, cuz we are special!” They talked for days about a creation that Elizabeth was working on for over 100 hours. I am guessing it is the Gingerbread house, because we never got to see it. Next year when we return, I am making it a point to get an invite into the Bakery Hale and witness first hand these lovely creations….

    PS….Thanks for making all the pastries, pies, desserts and any other delicious items with no calories….:)

    Happy New Year!

    Dana Bilbao-Miller

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