COLYELL — Chefs lined up 43 meticulously seasoned pots of jambalaya for tasting Saturday at Colyell’s fifth annual Jambalaya Cook-off at Colyell Ball Park.

Collins Wheat, coordinator of the cook-off, said his favorite part of the event is the community bonding experience.

“It’s a gathering for friends and family without a funeral or a wake,” Wheat said with a chuckle. “And everything is free.”

Wheat and his wife, Dale, started the cook-off as a benefit to raise money for a cancer patient. Pleased with the turnout, they began hosting an annual jambalaya cook-off. Five years later, the event is traditionally held on the second Saturday of March, and is almost four times its original size, he said.

“I love the Lord, and I just wanted to give back to the community,” Wheat said.

The top three reigning recipes received cash prizes and a trophy. Vaughn Galloway and S.V. “Pee-wee” Galloway took home the first-place trophy and a $400 cash prize. “Pee-Wee” Galloway said that he cooks jambalaya regularly for “friendship benefits,” to help “needy people and the senior citizens at church.” This was “Pee-Wee’s” first time entering the Colyell cook off, he said.

“To beat them makes me feel good because everyone else brags, and I know most of them,” he said.

“Bragging rights” are an important part of the competition. The cook-off has become a tradition among several family members, who enjoy the family rivalry.

“The fun of it is competing against my husband, my brother and bragging rights,” Amanda McMorris said. “It’s all about the bragging rights.”

Despite the talk of “bragging rights” and the occasional friendly allegation of a “rigged” contest from family rivals, the sense of community was as filling as the food, chefs said.

“This has got to be the most-giving and most-caring community I have ever been involved with,” said Sonya Collins, parish Councilwoman for District 6.

The French Settlement native said that the Colyell community makes her feel right at home.

“I’m not from here, but I’m a Colyellian,” Collins said.

Priss Templet, 47, said she acts as the “politician” of her red color-coordinated team, “T. Curtis and the Bayou Babes.”

Templet supported her team by giving “bribes with fake money and Hershey’s hugs and kisses” that were placed on her team’s table.

Gerald “G-Boy” McMorris said the cook-off determines “who’s the best cook” in his household and he likes that the event involves the whole community, allowing “a lot of older people to come out” as well as the younger folks, he said.

Monroe Wheat, 87, said he enjoys the cook-off because “everyone goes out of their way to help out.” He compares the people at the cook-off to being “just like one big old family.”

Of course, he enjoys eating the jambalaya as well, he said.

“Whoo! It was wonderful,” Monroe Wheat said. “They packed me two plates.”

Meghan Wheat, 17, said she loves seeing family everywhere during the event. Although she has never competed in the cook-off, she said she will probably enter next year’s competition using tips from her dad.

“I learned from the best, my daddy,” she said. “He taught me everything I know.”