The wood is stacked, the ingredients chopped and the cast-iron pots are ready for the three-day Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales, where more than 100 cooks will vie for the World Champion Jambalaya Cook title.
While the festival includes the usual springtime attractions, the jambalaya cooking contest is the big event this weekend on the grounds near city hall.
All using the same ingredients, cooks must create that perfect chicken-flavored rice to convince the judges that their rice concoction is the best.
Past winners have said it requires a combination of experience, endurance and luck.
They fondly call it paddle battle. In addition to worrying about the amount of water used or how long the rice boils, weather is always an issue. The combination of usually high temperatures coupled with wood fires makes the cooking contest an endurance sport.
It’s also a spectator sport, as hundreds of fans will line up near the cooking stations to watch the action.
Reigning champion Scott Duplechein said he plans to keep his title. He cooks in heat 7 starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Two other past champs, Carlos Braud and “Tee” Wayne Abshire, also are competing.
There are eight first-round heats, with the cooking starting at 2 p.m. Friday.
The top 32 contestants move on to the semifinal rounds Sunday morning, and the top 12 cook for the title starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The 2014 World Champion Jambalaya Cook will be announced at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in front of the Eatel Sound Stage.
There are a few changes to this year’s festival, the 47th annual, organizer Wally Taillon said.
The popular Champ of Champs contest, which pits past world champions against one another, has been moved from Thursday to Saturday.
Cutting the festival activities back to three days from the traditional four-day schedule makes it easier for the dozens of volunteers who put on the event.
The Jambalaya Festival Association hosts the festival, which raises money for area nonprofit organizations.
While cooks prepare their dishes in large, cast-iron pots that can cook 50 pounds of rice, across the festival grounds, cooks will be competing in the mini-pot contest to benefit Dream Day Foundation for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
There, cooks will prepare 1 cup of rice in tiny pots.
While the Jambalaya Festival is known for its cooking contest, many flock to the annual festival for the music.
Taillon, president of the JFA, said this year’s music lineup offers a variety of bands and musicians performing on three stages.
Among the notable bands are The Chee Weez, Ryan Foret & Foret Tradition, True Spin, Boogie King All Stars and Bag of Donuts.
The festival features a 5K and 1-mile fun run, a car show, carnival rides and games.
Parking is available at Jambalaya Park and surrounding areas.
Jambalaya and a variety of carnival food favorites will be sold.