While most folks attending the annual Jambalaya Festival on Memorial Day weekend concentrated on the big-pot cooking competition, 75 cooks turned their attentions to preparing the rice concoction in smaller proportions.
With a new contest sponsor, this year’s Mini-Pot Jambalaya Cooking contest moved locations to better accommodate the growing number of cooks that compete each year.
Brent Gautreau, chairman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3693 minipot event, said the contest raised money for the group’s projects to assist area veterans.
“The contest was a success, and we’re definitely on board for next year,” Gautreau said.
In the minipot contest, cooks prepare 1 cup of rice, 1 cup of pork and a half-cup of sausage in a small, cast-iron vessel. Cooks in the finals of big-pot contest prepare 60 pounds of chicken and 20 pounds of rice in a much larger pot.
It takes practice to get the rice just right when cooking over an open fire in such a tiny pot.
Allen “Tree” Whittington, of Gonzales, said he’s been cooking in the festival’s minipot contest for seven years, picking up a third-place win one year.
For Whittington, cooking jambalaya is a family affair. He said his two sons and two daughter also cook jambalaya.
Whittington tried to improve his chances this year by using a new, custom-designed cooking rig to accommodate his 6-foot, 5-inch frame.
Perry Moore, son Tyler Moore and brother-in-law Darren LeBourgeois were cooking across the way from Whittington. Each had their tiny pots atop a stand sitting on an aluminum foil-covered base, which held the burning wood chips.
Cooking stations and equipment varied from simple setups with pots on the ground to custom-designed stands like Whittington’s.
Longtime cook and former champ Carlos Braud sat his pot atop a custom-made stand with a windshield attached on one side. He was one of the few cooks not to work under a tent.
Despite the heat and slight breeze, Braud said his dish was where he wanted it to be.
In past years, the minipot contest was held in front of the Knights of Columbus Hall on Irma Boulevard. This year’s contest, on May 28, was behind Robert Insurance and across the bayou from the Gonzales Civic Center.
The contest included 42 male contestants, 15 women, 7 junior cooks and 11 under age 12.
Judges look for the same qualities that help determine the winner of the big-pot contest — rice texture, color and flavor.
After a morning of cooking, winner were named.
Brock Melancon won the 12-year-old and younger division with Turner Goldsmith second and Joel Cornett third.
Kade Thacker won the junior division, Brooke Everett was second and Kamie Parker third.
Blair Alexis won the women’s division, with Judy Braud second and Megan Tircuit third.
Vance Venable was first, Jeff Bourque second and Tommy Matthew third in the men’s division.
Jared Bourque won the minipot Champs of Champs contest, which was held the night before the regular minipot contest.