For reigning Miss Gonzales Jambalaya Queen Lauren Blouin, spending a year touring the state as the official representative of the Jambalaya Festival has been enlightening.

She learned a lot about her own home, and even more about how it stacks up against other places in the state she’s visited in her role as ambassador for the Jambalaya Festival.

“It’s so unique to who we are,” she said. “(No other place) has an outdoor festival centered around a cooking contest.”

As she reflects on her year as Gonzales Jambalaya Queen, Blouin said she is glad she made the decision to start entering pageants, though it wasn’t part of her original plan.

Her roommate in college was a former Boucherie Festival queen, she said, and, prodded by that friend, she decided to sign up for the 2012 Boucherie pageant.

“I actually signed up the night before the pageant,” she said, and she won.

The Jambalaya Festival Pageant was her second contest and her second win.

“Traveling the state, I’ve learned so much about Louisiana,” she said, and more importantly, that home is home to everyone.

One of her favorite travel spots was Plaquemines Parish, where she visited the hometown of the Orange Festival queen.

“I loved it there; they’re so country, and it’s contagious. They’re all obsessed with oranges, the same way everyone here is obsessed with jambalaya,” she said.

One of the highlights of her year as queen was her trip to the Mardi Gras Ball in Washington, D.C.

“I had a blast. They really did treat me like a queen there,” she said.

She plans to retire from pageant life after this year, she said, to concentrate on finishing college. She’s about to graduate from LSU with a degree in marketing, after which she plans to move to New Orleans.

Blouin and Berkley Parent, the 2014 Teen Miss Gonzales Jambalaya, will end their reigns when new queens are crowned May 2 at the Gonzales Civic Center.

The festival is May 22-24 along Irma Boulevard.