10/06/2015 09:07AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier
26th Annual World Championship Gumbo Cookoff
By Shanna Perkins
"First, you make a roux.” A phrase heard so often around South Louisia na kitchens that it’s become a joke. But on Oct. 11, no one will be joking about roux. On Oct. 9-11, The Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce will host the 26th annual World Championship Gumbo Cookoff on New Iberia’s historic Main Street.
On Sunday, nearly 90 teams will compete to be crowned as the champion of their realm of roux. But the fun begins on Friday, Oct. 9 in Bouligny Plaza. As a partner and sponsor of the Gumbo Cookoff, ON TAP is a pivotal source of the weekend’s productions. On Friday night, ON TAP will present a family-friendly film in the Steamboat Pavilion.
“The Word Championship Gumbo Cookoff is unique as a whole,” expresses Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce First Vice Chair and Gumbo Committee Chairman Kevin Romero. “Not only do we have the world’s best gumbo’s being cooked on Sunday, but Saturday has a red beans competition in the morning and also a youth gumbo competition in the afternoon. Saturday is also filled with a variety of Cajun cooking. All this great food surrounded by the best live music anywhere.”
Saturday begins with a running start with the ON TAP 5K Roux Run. Registration begins at 7 a.m. and the race starts at 8 a.m. The Roux Run is a USATF Certified 5K that winds through New Iberia. There will be a breakfast of champions and drink specials at the finish line.
“The Roux Run is special because we are part of a 15K Fall Race Series with Boogie on the Boulevard and Jungle Gardens 5K,” explains ON TAP President Wes Robinson. “If participants sign up and complete all three races, they receive a finishers medal. It allows runners to participate in numerous races and receive acknowledgement of their completion.”
Cajun Creole Food Fest
Over the years, watching younger chefs compete garnered such attention that a special Youth Division was added. While Saturday was historically ear marked as the day for “anything but gumbo,” The Youth Division competes on Saturday from 3-6 p.m. with the serving beginning at 6 p.m. It has been described as “a relatively small (no pun intended), but very exciting part of the Gumbo Cookoff.”
Saturday’s Cajun Creole Food Fest will be held to a unmistakably Cajun soundtrack: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band; 2-4 p.m. Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys; 4:30-7 p.m. The Revelers and 7:30-9:30 p.m. Pine Leaf Boys.
Those who will be competing in the Gumbo Cookoff Sunday morning prepare and serve the “anything but gumbo.” As Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Janet Faulk-Gonzales flips through Saturday’s food applications she rattles off menu items like sauce piquant, fried alligator, boudin eggrolls, corn & crab bisque, burgers, red beans & rice, Philly cheesesteaks, pastalaya, sweet potato fries, oyster and shrimp tacos and the list goes on and on.
At 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, the Gumbo Police gather at the Chamber office. They are equipped with clipboards, flashlights and strict instructions. It’s their job to make sure that there is no contraband or premade roux on the premises.
“The roux has to be made onsite,” says Faulk-Gonzales. “At 6 a.m., the cannon sounds and that’s when they can start cooking their roux. They can do some of the chopping ahead of time, but the roux has to be made that morning with no electricity. Bouligny Plaza smells divine at that time.”
The gumbo is divided into three categories: traditional chicken and sausage, traditional seafood and mélange. The serving begins at 11 a.m. Geno Delafose & the French Rockin’ Boogies will play from 10 a.m-12:30 p.m., followed by Roddie Romero & the Hub City Allstars from 1-3:30 p.m.
Because it is the “World” Championship, teams come from far and wide to throw their hats into the ring. This year’s teams come from all areas of Louisiana; Franklin, Tenn.; Tampa, Fla. and Madison, Miss. But no matter where they hail from, they compete with true Southern hospitality.
“I think the really great thing about the Gumbo Cookoff is the camaraderie,” Faulk-Gonzales says of the competition. “We have teams who have been there the entire 26 years. It’s fun to watch the teams tease one another. It’s a very relaxed positive good time. We like to say, ‘we see a lot of baby strollers.’ It’s a family day.”
In addition to being a tradition 26 years in the making, the Gumbo Cookoff is also the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce’s largest fundraiser, making it as important to them as it is to the community. “It’s the best kind of fundraiser, because it feels like an event and a tradition that the community looks forward to,” explains Faulk-Gonzales. “It’s pretty neat to be a part of that.”