GONZALES — Robert Reine doesn’t know exactly what made his winning pot of jambalaya different from the batches he’s cooked before, but he hopes to duplicate the recipe for the 48th Annual Gonzales Jambalaya Festival taking place this weekend.
After all, Reine plans on retaining the World Champion Jambalaya Cook title he won at last year’s festival.
The Gonzales Jambalaya Festival, featuring music, carnival rides and more than 100 competitors vying for the World Champion Jambalaya Cook title, runs Friday through Sunday on South Irma Boulevard near city hall and the Gonzales Civic Center.
“It’s just when it’s your turn, it’s your turn,” said Reine. “You have to be a good cook, and it’s a lot of luck that goes along with it.”
The cooking competition starts with four heats on Friday morning and continues with four more heats on Saturday, said Jambalaya Festival Association President Wally Taillon.
After the final round, the world champion is crowned Sunday and presented with a trophy, a $2,000 check and the coveted golden paddle, Taillon said.
Creating the perfect batch of jambalaya in a cast-iron pot over an open flame in scorching southern Louisiana temperatures is not for the faint of heart.
Judges want to taste a predominant chicken flavor that isn’t overpowered by garlic, celery or spices, Taillon said.
Judges also want rice that isn’t too greasy, wet or off-color and meat that isn’t broken, Taillon said.
“You want the rice to separate easy,” Taillon said.
Along with the golden paddle and championship title comes responsibility, Taillon said.
The world champion cooks for different civic organizations and charities all year, often appearing and cooking at more than 75 events, Taillon said.
Reine said he has traveled throughout the state and even to Gonzales’ sister city, Meylan, France, to cook jambalaya and represent the city and festival.
Through the festival, the Jambalaya Festival Association raises money for various charities and nonprofit organizations around the area, Taillon said.
Though the jambalaya contest draws a big crowd, the festival offers plenty of other forms of entertainment.
New to the festival’s musical lineup this year is country artist Chris Cagle, who topped the Billboard country music charts in 2001 with his hit “I Breathe in, I Breathe Out.”
Cagle will perform on the festival’s main stage at 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
Other musical acts performing on the festival’s three stages over the weekend include Na Na Sha, Chee Weez and Lil Bayou Band.
Saturday’s events also include a mini-pot competition, a 5K and one-mile fun run, plus carnival rides all weekend, Taillon said.
“There’s music, the cooking, the playground there …” Taillon said. “It’s all family oriented. Everything in one spot.”
On Saturday morning, children, teens and adults compete in front of the Knights of Columbus Hall in the mini-pot jambalaya-cooking contest that benefits the Dream Day Foundation for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Competitors cook 1 cup of rice, 1 cup of port and a half-cup of sausage in a tiny cooking vessel.
The festival also features two Champs of Champs contests that pit past champions in the mini-pot and main cooking contest. The mini-pot Champ of Champs contest starts at 6 p.m. Friday in front of the Knight of Columbus Hall and the big-pot Champ of Champs starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Parking is available at the festival and food and drink will be sold.
Visit www.jambalayafestival.org for more information.