WATSON — Foul weather dominated the conversation and activities at the eighth annual Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook-off held Saturday at the Watson Sports Complex, a new venue for the event which started in the backyard of the event’s founders, Berlin and Bobby Jo Coxe.
While constant rain showers limited the number of visitors to the festival, the rains failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the more than 40 cooks who continued to stir their pots under small tents dripping with water from the skies.
The gumbo cook-off is a major fundraiser for the Quad Vets Transitional Housing Program conducted at the Quad Area Services complex near Albany.
In his address to those gathered for the event, Berlin Coxe said, “If our brave veterans had to fight in the rain from time to time to defend our great nation, then we can stand in the rain and do our part to support those who sacrificed so much for all of us.”
Coxe continued, “Maybe the weather is bad for us today, but for homeless veterans, the weather is bad every day. On any given night, about 40,000 veterans are sleeping on the streets. This is a national disgrace, and if it happened to any other segment of our population there would be a public outcry to address the problem. We are all here today to do what we can to help the homeless veterans right here in our own backyard.”
Coxe said the Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook-off raised about $11,000 last year. Over the history of the event, about $50,000 has been raised for the Quad Area veterans housing program, he said.
Coxe thanked the cooks who braved the weather to support the veterans’ cause.
“I can’t say enough good things about our cooks and volunteers. Some of them were here at 5:30 this morning, waiting for me to open the gates so they could get started. The rain hasn’t done a thing to stop their enthusiasm and their willingness to come out and help our veterans,” he said.
Besides serving as a fundraiser, Coxe said the cook-off has become a special event for the entire community. “People look forward to the cook-off every year and they come from all over to enjoy the day, renew friendships and share a good time with family and friends.”
Bobby Jo Coxe said the planners of the event never considered canceling the cook-off because of the weather. “The fourth Saturday in January is our day for the cook-off, and people mark their calendar for this day. I’ve learned that if you change the schedule for a big event, it just doesn’t work out. Besides, some of our cooks and volunteers are shift workers, and they arrange their schedules weeks in advance so they can be here. We just couldn’t change the date,” she said.
Alexandra Juan, a staff member in the Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs, works with women veterans and was the keynote speaker at the cook-off’s opening ceremonies. She said she was "happy to be visiting a community where you put emphasis on helping our veterans. You are to be commended for what you do, and I offer you a special thanks for taking the time to come out here in support of this very worthy cause.”
The Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook-off is a culinary event that makes gumbo, Louisiana’s signature culinary contribution to the world, the guest of honor. Available for those who braved the wet weather was the opportunity to sample gumbo cooked in a variety of ways and “fowl” treats such as barbecued chicken, turkey and duck. Several seafood offerings were also available.
The cooks came from throughout the area and some from out of state. Most cooks had their tents decorated with colorful signs, flags and banners.
The visitors who braved the elements made their way along the rows of booths sampling the culinary treats that were offered up by the cooks. Umbrellas, raincoats, ponchos and other weather-defying gear were the apparel of the day.
One of the groups cooking their rich gumbo was the Hookers and Cookers. Tina Linder, a member of the group, was quick to explain that the “Hookers” were women who enjoy fishing together. “We are all Live Oak High School graduates, and though some of us have moved away, we still get together for fishing trips off the coast from time to time. Our husbands like to cook, and we accompany them to festivals and cooking contests. It’s all great fun and we enjoy being together,” she said.
Continuing, Linder said, “We were friends with Berlin and Bobbie Jo Coxe, and when they started the Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook-off years ago, we were eager to participate. We do it for the veterans, but we also do it because it is fun and it gives us a chance to be together. This is a great event,’ she said.
Wallace Sibley, executive director of the Quad Vets Transitional Housing Program chooses the gumbo cook-off each year to launch the Quad Vets Raffle, which raised $70,000 for the program last year. The raffle, which will run through April 28, offers about $10,000 in prizes that include a custom golf cart, cash and more. “For a $5 ticket, you get a chance to win some great prizes while helping our veterans,” he said.
“We really encourage people to buy their tickets this year because we need their help. Last year, we sold about $15,000 in tickets at the gumbo cook-off, but because of the weather this year, we won’t be able to sell nearly that many. Therefore, it is important that we sell as many raffle tickets as we can during the next three months,” he said.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.quadvets.org.
For the past several years, the cook-off was held behind Double D’s Daiquiris on La. 16. The size of the crowds at the event in recent years prompted the planners to move to the Live Oak Sports Complex, a larger venue with a paved area for the booths.