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Mike and Laura 'Tootsie' Gonzales with Congressman Garret Graves, from left, get ready to enjoy a pot of jambalaya Mike Gonzales cooked for Washington, D.C., staffers. Mike Gonzales was the winner of The Advocate's Jambalaya Contest, sponsored by Shoppers Value Foods.

Now that's how jambalaya is supposed to taste.

Last week, Mike Gonzales packed his truck, jambalaya rig and all, and headed to the nation's capital to cook a feast for some lucky staffers on Capitol Hill.

Gonzales, who lives in Prairieville but was raised in Gonzales, was the hands-down winner in The Advocate's Jambalaya Contest, sponsored by Shoppers Value Foods.

Our competition was sparked by the so-called jambalaya served last spring at the White House state dinner for French President Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron. The White House recipe included tasso and andouille sausage — chopped to the size of the rice — along with tomatoes, oregano, thyme and bay leaves.

But Louisianans who ate it said it didn't really resemble a jambalaya at all. Some called it more of a pilaf that served as the base for a rack of lamb. 

Jambalaya is supposed to have a rich, meaty flavor, said Gonzales, who won the Gonzales Jambalaya Festival championship in 2006.

For last week's dinner, which happened on an especially busy night in Congress, a couple dozen staffers and Congressman Garret Graves showed up for the dinner.

"We had a ball," said Gonzales, who served with his wife, Laura "Tootsie" Gonzales. "Everyone was so nice and so appreciated a home-cooked meal. Life is kind of crazy for them up there."

Most of the dinners were served to members of Graves' staff, many of whom are from Louisiana, Gonzales said.

"One was from right down the road in Dutchtown," he said. "It was fun being with people from down here."

Since he needed about three hours to prepare his award-winning jambalaya, Gonzales cooked it out on the loading dock and hauled his huge pot to a conference room for serving.

"I brought everything with me," he said. "So once we got a spot, we were ready to go."

Into the pot, among other things, went boneless pork, sausage, rice and onions.

That's what we call jambalaya.



Follow Karen Martin on Twitter, @karendmart.