The black pot, a staple in every Cajun kitchen, has come to represent more than the food that it cooks.
“It’s the way of life,” said Schuyler Hukins, a chef at local grocery store Breaux’s Mart. “Cooking out of a black pot is what people used to do in their backyard. They’d cook, sit around and play music. To me, this is one of the best festivals.”
Accented by the booming sounds of accordions and the twang of Cajun fiddles, more than 50 amateur and professional cooks squared off in different categories to find out who was truly the best in black-pot cooking.
“This festival is based around the idea of a black pot,” cookoff director Jo Vidrine said. “It’s about coming together as a community and coming together with your friends, cooking and sharing food.”
Vidrine said it wasn’t until a few festivals in when the on-site cooking became a competition.
“It’s really not about winning anything,” Hukins said. “It’s just coming here and cooking and watching the people’s faces when they take that first sample. They either like it, or they don’t. I always point at the trash can and say, ‘If you don’t like it, there it is!’”
Entering the cracklings competition was Lafayette staple Jefferson Street Pub, under the guidance of Chef Rob Sandberg, who put a Vietnamese twist on the Cajun delicacy.
“We’re doing kind of like an Asian style,” he said. “I was going for, like, a pho, so it’s basically like pho spices. It tastes exactly like pho.”
Unlike Hukins, Jefferson Street Pub was all about the competition.
“We won last year, and we’re going to win again!” exclaimed one of Sandberg’s assistants.
The gumbo competition easily fielded the most spirited competition. Some of the contestants kept it traditional, whereas others looked to change it up.
Representing The Saint Street Inn was a gumbo concocted with chicken bone marrow.
“A lot of cultures say the spirit lives in the marrow,” said Kelsey Leger, a chef at the Lafayette restaurant. ”So, I had to have that for the gumbo. I wanted to add all that spirit in there.”
Some of the more traditional types, like Leger and executive chef and general manager at Village Cafe Jeremy Conner, managed to add a distinctly local flair to the mix.
“I really like the sausage from the Eunice Superette,” Conner said, adding that he also knows where to get the best chicken and other ingredients for a good gumbo.
“If you know your farmer, you know what you’re going to get,” Conner said. “With my gumbo recipe, I really try to make it as simple as I can without all the craziness.”
Along with the cookoff, festivalgoers got to enjoy the true aesthetics of Acadian Village with performances by local mainstays like Feufollet, The Carper Family, Golden Thibodeaux and Preston Frank.
“It’s a whole lot of fun,” said Hadley Fuller, a senior anthropology student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and daughter of two performers in Golden Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys. “The food has been really good, the atmosphere is real nice and I’m glad they have a dance floor.”
The performances were scheduled to go on until midnight Saturday.
Even for those with little Cajun in them, it was an experience all its own.
Justin Weber, a California native, attended the Black Pot Festival with his uncle.
“My uncle convinced me to come, and it’s amazing here,” he said. “It’s great and I can’t wait to try the food here.”
The Black Pot Festival wraps up Sunday night with Jesse Lége at the Lakeview in Eunice.