SMITHFIELD – Every year at the Tree of Light Ceremony for the SECU Hospice House, Lynne Bigness debuts a wonderfully whimsical creation that always wows. Her well-crafted gingerbread house sits next to the ham biscuits and assorted sweet treats underneath the catering tent, where guests mingle in the cool night air.
Bigness, who is the catering manager for Johnston Health, says she enjoys seeing the smiles of those who stop to look at the details. In her opinion, the gingerbread houses are never quite all they should be. “I find the flaws,” she says. “But it’s good to be critical of your work. It keeps you on your toes.”
The gingerbread house is on display atop the salad bar in the Buffalo Creek Café at Johnston Health.
Before coming to the health care system two and a half years ago, Bigness worked in food services for 16 years at Barton College in Wilson. While there, she made a gingerbread house every year for Christmas functions. One of them even made the local newspaper.
“I started making gingerbread houses as a child, growing up on a farm in Idaho,” she says. It’s also where she learned to cook, and came to love serving others. “It makes me happy when people enjoy my food,” she adds. And her tasty entrees often bring compliments from customers, including the Rotarians who meet for lunch on Thursdays at Johnston Medical Mall.
Bigness, who stands about 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs about 105 pounds, is more of a taster than a big eater. She prefers coffee, and snacks on gum drops and other candies that she keeps in a sandwich baggie in her purse. During a typical week at the hospital, she does as many as 12 caterings—all solo.
On this particular afternoon, a week before Christmas, she was headed home to mail out eight fruitcakes, all homemade from a recipe that starts with soaking the fruit in brandy. Gifts for family members, who will no doubt enjoy every morsel.