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Gumbo Time At The Ag Arena

BOBBY ARDOIN Editor/Consulting Writer

Steam and enticing smells rising from over 50 carefully chosen pots filled with simmering varieties of chicken gumbo spread for several hours inside the St. Landry Parish Ag Arena Saturday.

It was definitely suitable gumbo weather, as a strong north wind cut through the openings at the facility helping create an appropriate atmosphere for the hundreds attending the 18th annual Gumbo Foundation Gumbo Cookoff.

For several hours cooking teams who paid $50 to participate, stirred and pampered their creations, as they waited for tasting judges to dip their spoons into gumbos featuring cherished recipes or innovative techniques aimed at capturing awards that were presented later during the day.

The charity event which raises money to help defray costs for children undergoing long-term medical care, will this year benefit 4-year-old Opelousas resident Cooper Schultz, who is undergoing treatment for B-cell lymphoblastic leukemia.

Live bands entertained the adult crowd, while pony rides and a petting zoo kept the younger children occupied.

One fortunate chicken who escaped the cooking pot seemed perplexed by the attention  received from spectators who ringed its wired cage, anxious to see if they had picked the winning squares during a Chicken Drop contest.

Nearly 100 items were eventually auctioned or raffled as part of the charity benefit event, which organizer Tim Marks said raised enough proceeds to monetarily assist the Schultz family, whose son has been treated at St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

“There’s a lot of effort that goes into this event. I know we were open last night and the teams began setting up then,” Marks said.

What The Contestants Were Saying

Mike Barron was in charge of the Benny’s Supermarket Entry, which he said contained pieces of andouille, tasso, chicken and carefully cut onions.

“Most of all there is a lot of love going into that pot. The roux was handcrafted and all the seasonings and contents came from the store,” Barron said.

Nextdoor to the Benny’s booth was the Ortego Chiropractic pot stirred primarily by Johnny Robin, who claimed his rooster hindquarters would provide some palate enhancement for the judges.

“The rabbit hinds provide a great flavor. We’ve also added some smoked turkey necks, some tasso and sausage,” Robin noted.

Chuck Granger said he is new to gumbo cookoff competition, but he thought his “below I-10” seasonings might provide him with an advantage.

Flavoring Granger noted, was provided by homemade, pecan-smoked sausage, which he said added a sweeter flavor. There was also fresh sausage added from a couple of stores in the Maurice and Abbeville areas, said Granger.

“I think I also have a pretty good roux which I do myself in addition to putting in turkey necks,” Granger said.

Over at another booth across the floor, Duncan McBride said he went with what he described as a “straight technique,” that included local contents.

However there was also a nuance that McBride figured would set his gumbo apart.

“I grill my chicken before I put it in with the other ingredients. I think the grilling is a technique that really seals in the flavor,” McBride added.

Rector Laurent De Prins of the Opelousas Epiphany Episcopal Church, said the gumbo prepared by church members included smoked turkey, sausage, tasso and ham hocks.

Bay leaves were cooked with the meat items, but there was something else that De Prins thought made a difference.

“This year I went with a base using Better Than Bouillon for chicken. I think that will be our best addition for the entry,” said De Prins.