Elves may be busy in the North Pole at this time of year, but they are also hard at work at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman — and in a very delicious way.
Every year since 2015, Head Pastry Chef Melissa Logan and her team create a holiday season showpiece in the lobby of the hotel: “Santa’s Workshop” complete with elves, reindeer, decorations and a toy train. There is even a large clock with candy-cane hands and a fireplace made entirely of chocolate.
Logan says she and her cooks spend months planning and making the Santa’s Workshop display.
“Not only is nearly every single element deliciously edible, but every piece in the scene tells a part of the story of what is taking place in the workshop.”
Her team hand-cuts chocolate and regular gingerbread squares to place on the façade and spends many hours creating every element in the scene, especially the elves, each one of which is given its own name and story.
The large display has grown in size and complexity over the years with new elements being added or changed every year. This year, Santa’s Workshop will have a few new workstations and there will be more reindeer doing interesting things, Logan says.
It takes four full days of work to put the display together. To watch Logan and her team of “elves” build the display, viewers can stop by The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman lobby between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4. The completed work will be available for viewing on Dec. 5.
The project is a labour of love for Logan, who has created and developed Santa’s workshop displays at all of the properties where she has worked.
She was originally taught the technique to create the display elements by a pastry chef at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Logan then had a vision to use that same technique to create elves for a holiday scene display.
Logan created her first display in 2004 when she was an assistant pastry chef living and working on a property in Maui.
“My first elves were made of just solid chocolate with no colours,” she says. “But the technique worked beautifully and when unveiled, the executive pastry chef was blown away.”
Since then, Logan has taken the idea of the display — and its recreation — to every property she works at.
Having moved to Grand Cayman from the Bahamas with her husband and son in 2015, Logan delights in being able to recreate her Christmas display every year at The Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman.
The elves in the piece are fascinating in themselves, each a unique piece of art that takes at least 12 hours to create. Logan works one-on-one with each of her cooks to help them make their own elf. Each cook chooses the hair colour, eye colour and skin tone. They even get to name it, coming up with characters such as Gus Gus, McKringle and Bifilda Bunt Cake.
“Each elf is made of all chocolate underneath,” says Logan. “The head is hollow so that it can be cut out, but the legs and feet have to be solid so they can hold up the elf. Their hair is made out of modelling chocolate, almost like clay in terms of pliability. Fondant is used too, rolled thin. They are all chocolate and sugar. There is very little on the display that is
In the display scene, something is happening with each of the elves. There are elves wrapping presents and one is taking the gifts and stacking them up to make a tunnel for the toy train to go through. An elf named Oliver is eating a cookie and just watching them work. Another elf is wrapped up in Christmas lights and doesn’t know how it happened. One elf even fell in the sleigh and ripped his pants and his buddies are trying to grab a foot each and pull him out of the sleigh.
“There is so much going on, it takes viewers at least half an hour to take it all in,” Logan says.
In the past, Logan’s elves all looked similar. Now there is a lot more ethnicity and diversity in her elves, including their gender.
“Up until two years ago, I made only boy elves. All my female cooks would ask ‘Why no girl elves?’ I would say I’ve never done it. I don’t know how to even go about it,” Logan says, adding that making girl elves with braids, ponytails and skirts is a more elaborate process.
Logan finally made her first girl elf, dubbed Penelope McMittens, in 2016.
“She was a lot of fun. When I posted Penelope on Instagram, I had a lot of cooks who worked with me previously say: Finally, we’ve been waiting for girls!” Logan says.
Each elf can be “adopted” this year to raise funds for Feed Our Future, a charity that provides food to hungry children in the Cayman Islands. Donors can have their photo taken with Chef Logan and the cook who created it, plus a plaque is placed with the elf on display.