An Interview with Chuck Dugo, Pastry Chef
Black Rabbit Bakery at Edgefield
Strangely, it was Christmas that inspired Edgefield bakers to construct a creepy, crumbling Halloween version of Edgefield manor. In order to have enough time to make the thousand or so sugar & egg white bricks that make up the traditional pastried holiday structure, they needed to start immediately. They toiled on those tiny bricks – and much more – through October and thought why not kick things off early with a haunted mansion?
Head Pastry Chef Chuck Dugo has plenty more up his sleeve when it comes to baking at Edgefield (try the gooey-delicious house made cinnamon rolls or hand-dipped caramel apples!). Here’s what he and the Edgefield Bakery team had to say about this twist on a gingerbread house.
Q: What’s been inspiring you in the kitchen?
Chuck: I love fall and Halloween! It starts to cool down but it’s still nice outside, leaves are changing colors, and the air feels different. You get a little cozier, and there’s all the autumnal colors and flavors – maple, pumpkins, squash, herbs, pomegranate, quince – all these really amazing seasonal things. I love Halloween; it’s just goofy, spooky, traditional.
Q: What was the inspiration for the haunted hotel specifically?
Chuck: I really started building the hotel for Christmas. My idea for doing it was to make sugar and egg white paste bricks – you have to make the mixture, press it into a mold and let it dry for three or four days. I only have four molds and I’m thinking I’m going to need probably 1,000 bricks. I can only do 150 at a time, so I need to start in September, right? So then I got a little excited one day and made a big batch of the “cement.” I spread it out in sheet pans, cut it, and dried it.
We have a few different colored bricks: some are red, brown, or gray, black, so it’s a mix, but it ended up working really well because it gives it a lot of detail and dimension. So during that process, I was like, “It’s October. Why don’t we do a haunted hotel?” And then for Christmas, I can refurbish the building and “Christmasify” it.
Q: Tell us about some of the details and what the team worked on.
Chuck: Lukas made a Thestral on top, which is a winged horse from Harry Potter. You’ll see the hotel’s eroded walls and bricks – it’s kind of crumbling, but it’s still together. And I broke off one corner so people can see inside. There’s a dining area, this crazy ghost on the ground level, a crystal ball, a pentagram with the pig’s head (a reference to Edgefield’s Amazing Grace room), Hogshead whiskey, and a bagpipe player who’s sort of casting spells. There is also a black cat that Lukas made called Satin, based on a real cat from the Edgefield property.
My team, we really try and support each other. Lukas also did all the crows on the trees which are super tiny and detailed. Take a look at them, and take your time because one has knife, one is scratching under its wing, one is pecking seeds – they’re all in different positions.
Lukas: For the Murder of Crows, there are 26, because I want to do two baker’s dozens because 13 seemed like a good like Halloween number. The leader of the crows is based on a real crow that picked up a steak knife in its beak. So the leader of the crows here is armed.
Selina: It was my first time working on a project like this. I worked on the skull and pumpkins, but one of the thing I absolutely love is the details on the furniture. It’s all made out of chocolate and fondant, and it’s just beautiful.
Interviewer Kat: Shani masterminded the eerie incarnations of Edgefield’s storied black & white rabbits and the haunting ghosts with a wide range of expressions.
Q: What about the fondant characters?
Chuck: We take fondant and mix it with gellan gum, and that turns it into gum paste so it dries much faster. I did a really big chocolate sculpted tree and Lukas made a smaller one for the opposite end of the hotel. He made tombstones, bones, a bunch of pumpkins, and a tiny mouse too.
The Haunted Hotel is on display in the Edgefield lobby through Halloween. Stop by on December 2nd when the holiday masterpiece will be unveiled!
The Artists of Black Rabbit Bakery: Left to right: Shani Cooperman, Lukas Lapham, Chuck Dugo, Selina Kister, & (not pictured) Andrea Busse