When fall arrives in Louisiana, the gumbo pots come out. We asked the champs of New Iberia's annual cook-off for their recipes.
Louisiana natives are quick to tell you that no two gumbos are alike. Tweak a roux here and a spice there and you end up with a completely different pot of stew — which is why every October gumbo fanatics meet in New Iberia to see who's making it the best. The three-day World Championship Gumbo Cook-Off ( October 12 to 14; worldchampionshipgumbocookoff.blogspot.com) starts with live music on Friday night and a Cajun and Creole food festival on Saturday before the main event on Sunday. About 90 teams gather before 5 a.m. to compete in one of three categories: chicken and sausage, seafood and mélange (the wild-card division). For the next few hours, all of downtown smells like gumbo as 40,000 people wait to get their first taste. It's worth a trip for a sample, but in case you can't get there, we asked last year's amateur winners for their prized recipes.
Alcee "Butch" Bayard has been making his team's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (pictured above) entry for years, just the way his mother taught him. "It's kind of my baby," he says. He had never placed higher than third in the category, but a few days before last year's competition, he decided to use whole-wheat flour in place of some of the all-purpose in his roux. The small swap made a big difference: Bayard and his team walked away with a first-place trophy. They'll be back again this year — with the trophy proudly on display.
James Trahan and his team are regulars at barbecue and jambalaya competitions in the South. But they hadn't participated in the gumbo cook-off until last year. "After talking about it for a while, we finally decided to go for it," Trahan says. They made a massive batch of the Seafood Gumbo (pictured above) that Trahan serves at his annual Halloween party and won over the judges on their first try. "I knew whatever we did would be pretty good," Trahan says, "but I didn't have any idea we'd take first place."
Last year Neal Trahan decided not to go to the awards ceremony with the rest of his team: "Every year I go and I'm just disappointed." He sat in his booth, but he could still hear the announcer — and when his team won the mélange division (with the above Melange Gumbo), he jumped out of his seat. With just a simple addition, his team beat out gumbos with unexpected ingredients like quail and alligator: "We doctored it up with smoked turkey."