Jambalaya may be what's for dinner at a few more homes in St. Amant these days thanks to a middle school cooking club that's been teaching the skills needed to make the rice concoction for more than 20 years.
And while the St. Amant Middle School Cajun Cooking Club has had a few alumni compete in the annual Jambalaya Festival cooking contest, competition is not the goal for organizer and club founder Van Lambert.
Lambert and a handful of volunteers teach sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students how to prepare the rice dish in small, cast iron pots — the miniature cousins of the larger vessels used for generations of families in the parish to cook jambalaya.
Gonzales was declared the Jambalaya Capital of the World in 1968, and a festival honoring everything jambalaya has been held ever since. This year's festival, which starts on May 26 in Gonzales, will celebrate its 50th year.
Lambert said the goal of the club is simple: "just cook."
He said cooks are encouraged to be safe, have fun and "learn something."
"Oh yeah, and don't get burned," he said, adding that they've had only one minor burn in the club's history.
Carlton Savoy, a volunteer cooking coach for about 15 years, said he enjoys passing on his jambalaya knowledge to the students.
The club meets about seven times each school year. The students gather under the trees in front of the school to cook jambalaya. The ingredients are provided in small cups and plastic bags. A volunteer coach is never far from the open-flame cooking.
Student Katelyn Plumber, 12, said she's learned about the importance of browning meat before adding other ingredients and picked up a few techniques to control the fire under the pot.
Katelyn said her dish usually turns out "pretty good."
The April 5 session was the last one for this year's class, Lambert said. For the last class, the students learned how to use pasta instead of rice in the tiny pots.