Guest Blog By: Avery Grubb, PR & Marketing Director, Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce
*See end of blog for photo descriptions
The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff is embarking on its 30th year in New Iberia, and we’ve been hard at work perfecting the recipe for the perfect event in the south. Whether you’re a large family, gumbo chef, or a guest from out of town, everyone here in the south knows - October is gumbo time! I spoke with early participant (and winner of multiple Gumbo Cookoffs) Kernis Louviere, legendary musician Chubby Carrier and past board member Bart Folse to discuss the beginnings of the festival and why it remains a cultural staple in our area.
Deep Roots and a Dark Roux
Over 30 years ago, the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce set out on a history-changing journey to generate revenue for the chamber, but also celebrate something that we do better than anyone else- cook a mean gumbo! With less than a dozen chefs participating in 1989, the event quickly turned into a serious one, with more and more chefs joining the competition every year to show off their culinary skills.
As the event became more established, so did the components of the event. From adding live music and children’s activities to starting new traditions, part of what makes this weekend so special to people is that every year is a little different from the last. Come with us as we take a look at some of our favorite highlights of the event, including the delicious gumbo itself!
A Winning Recipe
First and foremost- what does it take to create a savory gumbo? Let Kernis Louviere, who holds multiple first-place titles at the cookoff, explain how he makes his award winning gumbo. “Back in 1993, you could actually enter the gumbo cookoff the week of! And they were practically begging people to cook. That was my very first try at the cookoff, and we actually won the seafood category that year.” Thus the legend was born.
Kernis has been a long-time supporter of the cookoff, and is happy to share the details of his winning recipe. “Two things make a good gumbo: good stock and fresh ingredients. I guess it’s just the fact that you have to actually put love and passion into it. The end result will always show how much preparation went into it. Now, it takes me around two weeks to prepare for the cookoff. We make stock, roast the seafood and sausage ahead of time, and the reward- well, it’s perfect. I’m not getting rich doing the gumbo cookoff. I’m doing it because I love it.”
By the way, now there’s a waiting list to participate!
One of the beauties of a winning gumbo is that the recipe doesn’t change! Once you figure out the perfect way to make it, there isn’t much else to do besides cook. However, for an event that celebrates gumbo, there is always room to grow.
Additional event activities include free live music, the Meanest Beans Challenge, and even the Youth Gumbo Competition. The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff has repeatedly found ways to draw in new crowds and affirm gumbo as Louisiana’s trademark dish.
The next step in expanding the Cookoff was naturally including another staple of Louisiana- our music! In came Chubby. Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band first played at the Gumbo Cookoff well over a decade ago! The sweet sounds of Cajun music blended so well with the food being served, that eventually a precedent began- the Gumbo Cookoff wouldn’t be complete without free live music for everyone to enjoy.
When talking with Chubby about his love for the Cookoff, it’s easy to see why artists get excited to come and perform on the Gumbo Stage. “I remember walking around that festival ground and it just made me feel at home, it really did. The people. The feel. The vibe. The work ethic. It’s family oriented, and that motivates me to come back every year because I want to see more of that, more of the tradition being continued with Zydeco, Swamp Pop, and Cajun Music. It’s become a southern tradition.”
And part of that southern tradition is hospitality. The Gumbo Cookoff makes sure people from around the globe get the chance to come taste and feel what makes our community so special.
Another “fresh ingredient” that has been incorporated into the weekend-long festival is the Youth Gumbo Competition. Kernis Louviere, beloved gumbo cook, first introduced the idea years ago for the cookoff.
Bart Folse, past board member, recalls how the event got started: “Because of what gumbo means for our culture and the culture of Louisiana, it is so important to cultivate that, and to get children involved with cooking. I remember when the kids won their first competition, everything sort of came together quickly. Their gumbo was not coming together as quickly as the kids would like, but they all rallied together as a team, and when they announced them as winners, I remember a reaction of mostly complete shock.
"But it was followed by just pride, and to have a lot of veterans of the cookoff come around and congratulate them really validated their hard work. The work they had done to make it happen really re-enforced the reason that we started the cookoff in the first place.”
For Bart, this kind of addition is a “direct tie to our culture, and unlike so many places in the country, we still have a unique culture that is all our own. It really is a ‘melting pot’ or ‘gumbo pot’ if you will, of cultures and histories. To bring the kids around and engage them in the culture and history is a win in my book.”
More Than Just Gumbo
The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff has served as a pillar of Iberia Parish for a long time. By celebrating our culture on such a large scale, the cookoff does more than crown a few winners every year. The cookoff helps boost Iberia Parish’s economy, connect locals and visitors with our culture, and allows the community to come out every October and pass a good time- something we do very well!
So come on down this October 12th & 13th, and join us in celebrating not only our delicious food, but our savory culture and love of tradition as well. We’ll save you a bowl of gumbo cher!
Photos in Order of Appearance:
- Tommy Granger (far right) and his team, The Jeanerette Gourmet Supper Club, at the very first World Championship Gumbo Cookoff. Their team took home first place in the seafood category that year. Back then, there were only two categories: chicken and seafood.
- Tommy Granger now, sporting his apron from the first annual World Championship Gumbo Cookoff.
- Gumbo Chef Legend, Kernis Louviere, accepting his first trophy.
- Louviere, accepting the 2016 Jimmy Picard Award.
- Chubby Carrier at the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff 2016.
- “Leaning Oak Farms” Youth Gumbo Cookoff Team, with their first place trophy at the 2018 World Championship Gumbo Cookoff
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