GONZALES — The hair on the back of 2013 World Champion Jambalaya Cook Scott Duplechein’s arms stood up last year when he pulled back the lid from his winning pot of jambalaya.
Duplechein’s contest helper and wife, Kellie Duplechein, nearly started crying when she saw how wonderful their rice looked — perfectly fluffy and split, he said.
And, the aroma ...
“When it’s done right, you can smell the chicken in the steam,” Duplechein said. “It was probably the best pot of rice we’ve ever cooked.”
http://www.jambalayafestival.org/">Jambalaya Festival Association judges agreed and awarded Duplechein the title of 2013 World Champion Jambalaya Cook plus a golden jambalaya paddle award, a cast iron cooking pot and a $2,000 check.
Duplechein, 43, will fight to retain his title May 23-25 during the 47th annual Jambalaya Festival Cooking Contest with Kellie returning as his helper.
“I get offended when people tell me about it’s about to come to an end because I can’t win again,” Duplechein said. “I intend to. I’m going there to win it.”
No one has won back-to-back titles since Norbert Loupe won two of his six world champion titles in 1982 and again in 1983, according to Jambalaya Festival Association records.
The deadline to enter the 2014 Jambalaya Festival Cooking Contest is Monday, Jambalaya Festival Association President Wally Taillon said.
There will be a mandatory meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Gonzales Civic Center for participants.
The cooking contest features eight preliminary heats beginning May 23. From those eight heats, judges will select 32 contestants to move on to the semifinal rounds on the final day of the festival.
The 12 cooks with the highest scores then will cook for the championship title Sunday afternoon, Taillon said.
One of the responsibilities of the reigning world champion is to help cook at local functions, school programs and charitable events. These events help people learn about jambalaya itself.
“Even though we have an area that cooks a lot of it, there are still people who are not that familiar with it,” Taillon said.
Certainly, many people have never seen jambalaya cooked over a wood fire. And Duplechein has served and promoted the Jambalaya Festival Association well, Taillon said.
Duplechein cooked at four more events over the weekend, bringing his total to 72 events during his reign. That’s more than 24,000 servings of jambalaya.
Luckily, his job at the Ascension Parish School Board office’s planning and construction department has allowed him to use his vacation time to cook for events.
“I wanted to be an advocate for the queens and the city and promote the festival,” Duplechein said.
Duplechein is no newcomer to the cooking contest. Before winning last year, he had competed as a helper many times and won with champion Jeff Parent in 2007.
Over the past four years, Duplechein paired with his wife but they failed to make it out of the first round each time, he said.
The 2013 competition was the last year Duplechein gave himself to win with his wife before pairing back up with Parent.
“2013 was the fifth year,” Duplechein said. “I told Kellie, ‘This is it, if we don’t do something here.’ ”
Last year, the pair finally advanced out of the preliminary heat and judges told the Duplecheins they had cooked the highest-scoring pot of jambalaya in the semifinal round.
Duplechein said he was “shook up” and worried he had cooked the winning pot of jambalaya too soon when they learned of their high score but credits his wife for soothing his nerves.
“She did a great job of calming me down,” Duplechein said. “She told me to shut up, focus and do it again.”
The duo did it again.
As for this year’s competition, Duplechein isn’t ready to hand the title over to another winner.
“I’m not going in there expecting to give the paddle up,” Duplechein said of the long-handled jambalaya paddle passed on each year to the new champion.