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Photo by Freddie Herpin

Contributing Writer

Smoke was rising steadily from inside an array of pots at the annual Gumbo Cook Off Saturday, but most chefs attending to the fires were keeping a covered lid on revealing all of their crucial ingredients.

No culinary spies were spotted seeking vital gumbo information, but Ty Hargroder, cooking for a LHC Hospice team said he was nonetheless taking the necessary precautions.

Hargroder is part of a team that won the coveted Paddle Award at a previous Cook Off event, and he was guarding his confidential recipe, at least until the judges sampled his Saturday dish.

The substantive effect contained in any gumbo endeavor Hargroder said, lies in the roux.

“You cook a roux for about two hours. You have to melt the roux. If you want to know the real story for the success of my gumbo, it’s the love I put into it,” Hargroder added.

Event organizers at Frank’s on East Landry Street, said there were 63 entries in this year’s 16th annual event, which uses the funding from the entries for local children whose parents need money for medical expenses.

Money for this year’s Cook Off according to an event poster, was for Zaidee Thibodeaux.

Several live bands covered songs from ‘60’s artists like Credence, The Beatles and Van Morrison, while many in the large crowd that strolled, stopped and sometimes talked with the chefs at their favorite tents.

Hargroder’s gumbo was using mixed shrimp, oysters, crabs and okra, but that’s as far as he went towards providing some of the other essentials for what was cooking in his pot.

Jason Fruge, cooking for attorney Elbert Guillory, was sustaining his cooking fire underneath a pot that contained a hen, ham, smoked sausage and tasso.

“You could call my gumbo a Creole gumbo. It’s the way my parents always made it in Cecilia. What I’ve done here is just add my own touch,” said Fruge.

Fruge said a hen is often preferred, since the hen needs to cook longer, enhancing the taste.

Underneath the I-49 Riders pavilion, chief chef Sandy Richard oversaw her version of chicken and sausage gumbo.

In addition Richard was ready for both sets of judges, as her seafood gumbo simmered nearby.

Both of her pots, Richard noted, contained Savoie’s roux, which she said is just as good as the kind made from scratch, if you cook Savoie’s long enough.

“My seafood gumbo has crabs, dried shrimp and crab meat. The chicken is what you would expect, chicken and sausage,” Richard added.

Hunter Fontenot was the main cook for Dupre, Carriere and Godchaux.

Fontenot’s chicken and sausage pot also contained quail eggs, turkey wings, green onion placed just before serving for effect.

“The turkey wings are in there to give a smoke taste, while the quail eggs are for the increased acidity,” Fontenot pointed out.

Those gathered around the Opelousas Gumbo Taste Buds tent were confident they had a winning pot.

Chef Frank Guillory and his assistants Carmen Jacks, Randy Randell and Jerome Chavis were confident in their cooking, since they do it so often.

“Our group, the Taste Buds, cook for schools and other events. We also do a mean jambalaya,” Guillory added.

“We have the skillet roux, the kind from scratch. No jar roux for us. We prefer using a metal pot for the cooking,” Guillory said.

In the pot was chicken and sausage that Guillory said was also homemade. Andouille, tasso, turkey wings for smoked flavor and gizzards and necks gave the Taste Buds sample a flavor that set it apart, added Guillory.