Ryan Allen remembers the first Red Stick Roux Rally in 2013 like it was yesterday. A co-founder and organizer, Allen said the event then was a smaller affair with a handful of teams competing in a gumbo cook-off at Tin Roof Brewing Co.
But mainly, Allen remembers it so well because his dad, Richard Allen, won't let him forget who was the first cook-off champion.
"Oh yeah, I was the first annual winner," Richard Allen said with a big laugh.
Over the past four years, the event — and the competition — has grown, exceeding any and all expectations. For its fifth year, the Red Stick Roux Rally gumbo cook-off will host about 40 teams in downtown Baton Rouge, starting at 11 a.m. Saturday. Those teams include local businesses, a few catering companies, competitive cooks and their friends.
In addition to all the family-friendly gumbo goodness, the event will feature music from The Chase Tyler Band and The Chee-Weez. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the event. VIP tickets for $40 are also available online.
Teams will compete in three categories: chicken and sausage, seafood and Cajun combo (a catch-all for gumbos that have ingredients like duck, or shrimp and ham). Competitors arrive early in the morning, start cooking, then have a good time.
And it's all for a good cause. Proceeds benefit Youth Oasis, a nonprofit in Mid City Baton Rouge that supports runaway, abandoned and homeless youths. Roux Rally co-founder and organizer Jonathan Thorning said the past two cook-offs have generated a combined $50,000 in donations to Youth Oasis.
"The event has done amazing things," competitor Sally Rinehart said. "Youth Oasis provides an invaluable service to the community, and KIDS (the nonprofit that organizes and hosts Roux Rally) understands that need of trying to get people helping people."
Rinehart has competed at Roux Rally in the past. This year, she's bringing two teams, one with a Mardi Gras theme.
"The competition can get intense," she said. "You've got guys who are not messing around with their roux. I'd say our teams are about medium-level competitive."
She likes her gumbo with a dark roux. She doesn't waste time with rice. She prefers it with a scoop of potato salad. She predicted her team will place in one of the categories.
"We have a secret distraction for the other teams," she said. "Beer."
Austin Theriot is another returning competitor. In previous years, his teams made chicken and sausage gumbos. One year, his team even placed. But he wants to stand out Saturday, and his team is eyeing the seafood gumbo crown.
"We like to let the gumbo do the talking," Theriot said.
Richard Allen, the first champ, had other ideas.
"I think No. 1, my team will win the cook-off, and No. 2, we'll win the best party theme," he said. "I figure we'll need to let some other people win, so we'll let them have everything else."
After a brief pause, he let out a big laugh.
"If you could see how hard I'm trying to be serious right now," he said.
In addition to a pineapple-themed tent with a photo booth and appetizers of barbecue pineapple and sausage, Richard Allen said his team will go back to a traditional chicken and sausage gumbo for Saturday.
"We always do a little something extra," he said. "We want to have our team stand out and do something that pops. Here in south Louisiana, we like to enjoy eating food."
The competitors and organizers enjoy the atmosphere. While Roux Rally has continued to grow since its debut, the organizers have ideas for future expansion across multiple days.
"We want to create a food and festival atmosphere," organizer Ryan Allen said. "The model we looked at when we started it was Hogs for the Cause. Teams competing against each other with a healthy mix of chefs, restaurants and backyard cooks. When it comes to gumbo, everyone has that special recipe."
Thorning said the overall goal is "to create a Baton Rouge staple."
However, in just a little time, it sounds like Roux Rally has already become that event.
"It's been something that's been great to a part of," Theriot said. "It's a fun day in Baton Rouge. It's like tailgating in the spring. Seeing how it's grown and developed has been awesome to watch."
Red Stick Roux Rally Gumbo Cook-off
Featuring music from The Chase Tyler Band and The Chee-Weez
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The plaza at North Boulevard and Lafayette Street in downtown Baton Rouge
COST: $10 online, $15 at the event, VIP tickets available for $40