Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP GUMBO COOK-OFF

By Paul Schexnayder for Kajun Kween

Hay la bas, I’m missing the World Championship Gumbo Cook-Off that takes place in my winter habitat of New Iberia, Louisiana! My friend Janet Faulk-Gonzales, president of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, recently called me about New Iberia gearing up for this annual event kickoff on Friday. Some good smells will be emanating from Bouligny Plaza, and a representative from Anderson Cooper’s Show will be reporting on and tasting the best of Louisiana cooking at the “Cook ‘Em” Event (this year’s title for the Cook-off).
It’s a premier, three-day event on historic Main Street and is backed by corporate sponsors McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce and British Petroleum. This year, ninety teams of gumbo cookers from throughout south Louisiana will begin stirring up a roux at 6 a.m., and the tasting and judging will begin at 11 a.m Sunday, October 14. During that time period, I’ll be preaching a sermon at St. Mary’s here at Sewanee, and I hope that I get through the delivery without stuttering because of visions of gumbo dancing in my head.
From years past, I can attest to the taste of chicken and sausage, and seafood gumbos that will ruin your taste buds for gumbos cooked in any other locale than Louisiana. This year, lagniappe has been added to the event. Fifty teams at the Cook-Off will cook in a competition that features “anything but gumbo” – dishes like jambalaya, corn and crab bisque, fried fish, red beans and rice, and funnel cakes…maybe even alligator dishes. Hay la bas, it’s Cajun cooking at its best, and here I am chilling out in 58 degree weather with a gray pall hanging in the sky at Sewanee, Tennessee and no prospect of tasting anything but noodle soup !
In Cajun country, we believe in dancing in the streets, and the Cook-Off will feature “chanky chank” music by such notables as Grammy Award winner, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. Troy and Jacob Landry of the TV series, “Swamp People,” will come up from the swamp to help celebrate the Cook-Off, and LSU fans will enjoy the LSU-South Carolina game on a 12x16  ft. TV screen and two flat screens set up in the gazebo of Bouligny Plaza on Saturday. The Cook-Off is just one of the celebrations in south Louisiana that represents the joie de vivre of a town that boasts an authentic French/Spanish background.
Where else could a person get a brimming over, hot cup of seafood gumbo for $4 and a cup of chicken gumbo for $3, except at a world class gumbo cook-off in south Louisiana?!! The weather prediction for the event is: sunny skies, gentle breezes, and 68 degrees temps, but Janet makes a disclaimer that a resident meteorologist isn’t on the Chamber of Commerce staff. However, I’ve enjoyed the event during a Louisiana rainstorm that didn’t fell the bright tents housing the Cajun kitchens.
Several years ago, I wrote a young adult fiction book entitled Kajun Kween, and one chapter is devoted to this world class cook-off which Petite Marie Melancon wins, hands down, for her Shrimp Gumbo. She also garners the overall Best Gumbo Award and accepts the award while dragging a pet pig on a leash that is stolen by a man shouting, “Kajun Kasualty, no! La Boucherie (hog butchering), yes. Cracklings and boudin, pork roast, yes! We’ll have it all tonight in Jeanerette!” Petite and her companion, Henri, rescue the pig, but if you want to read more about this 13-yr. old who interviews for a New York City comic strip publisher and beats out more ordinary jolie catins (baby dolls), her adventures are chronicled in The Kajun Kween. Petite’s adventures include an encounter with a mama ‘gator, a giant snapping turtle, a loup garou (werewolf) and a snake that drops into her pirogue while she’s poling through a south Louisiana swamp (and there are no Troy and Jacob Landrys around to rescue her!).
Mais, I’m missing bayou country as I write, and I can smell a phantom gumbo from here. Three more weeks and I’ll be laissez le bon temps roulez (let the good times roll) with the rest of the New Iberians in the Queen City of the Teche.
Drawing by Paul Schexnayder, world class artist from New Iberia, Louisiana.
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