Many people might assume that everyone who lives near Gonzales, the Jambalaya Capital of the World, would know everything about jambalaya.
They would be wrong.
But former Jambalaya World Champion cook Jeff Parent tried to educate a few Prairieville Middle School seventh-graders Friday during the school’s 10th annual Living in the South program.
He was one of more than a dozen presenters talking about everything from food to alligator hunting.
Teacher Patricia Peno said Parent’s talk and demonstration on how to make jambalaya helps the students — many from families that recently moved to the area — learn about the culture and food of Ascension Parish and surrounding communities.
Food was at the center of Parent’s presentation.
Parent said many of the students eat the rice dish, but have no idea about its history and why it’s served so frequently in the area.
With the help of his dad, Glynn Parent, 73, Jeff Parent fried some chicken in a large, black cast iron pot, poured the rice and explained the process of making a good jambalaya dish.
“Jambalaya is not a meat dish, it’s a rice dish,” he said.
While today’s jambalaya usually includes lots of meat — mostly chicken, pork and sausage — the jambalaya that Glynn Parent grew up with had very little meat.
Cooks, he said, had to figure out how to get the meat flavor into the rice “to trick the kids to think they were getting meat,” Glynn Parent said.
Glynn Parent was one of nine children and when his mom served jambalaya, as the youngest, he rarely got a plate of jambalaya with any chicken.
“But she figured out how to make us think we had chicken in there,” he said. “She was clever and a good cook.”
The inexpensive dish, which has Spanish roots, is perfect to serve at large gatherings and most families native to the area have large cooking vessels to serve lots of people, Jeff Parent said.
“And don’t call it a cheap dish, it’s inexpensive,” he said. “The ingredients are not that expensive, but it’s a great dish with lots of flavor.”
The students also learned about other foods native to the area during a talk by Jennie Merrill, with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans.
State Rep. Eddie Lambert talked to the students about alligator hunting and New Orleans veteran Ben Martinez, 95, talked about his experiences as a medic in World War II.
After the presentations, the students were treated to boiled crawfish and jambalaya.