Saturday’s thunderstorms were the worst in the 26-year history of the Second Chance Jambalaya Festival. But that didn’t stop the cooking.
While flash flooding from a constant downpour brought Gonzales traffic to a standstill, festival organizer Sherry Laiche and her family simply put on their rain gear, set up some tents and went about their day.
Every year, on the first Saturday in June, the festival brings an opportunity for redemption for those who either lost the Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales or just didn’t make it.
It also offers a more relaxed atmosphere, focusing on family and fun, rather than just winning, said Roger Blair, the father of last year’s winner, Jeff Blair.
“We usually have around 200 people here,” said Laiche, but the weather made this year’s festival a bit more intimate and family-focused.
Contestants included family, like Laiche’s nephew Lee Jones. This was his 23rd year cooking at the festival. Kami Jones, his sister, normally cooks, as well, but opted out, this time to help her aunt with administrative duties.
Anyone can enter the competition, and this year, seven cooks vied for first place. Laiche added that last year there were 21.
Brian Mumphrey, now a part of Laiche’s family after marrying her niece, participated in the competition for the first time this year.
Mumphrey said he learned to cook from his father-in-law, starting with jambalaya and gravy.
“I think I finally found a recipe that comes out good,” he added with a grin.
Jeff Blair said he goes by taste as he cooks to see what turns out well. This was his fifth year participating in the competition.
His brother, Troy Blair, also competed. The two exchanged friendly quips but not much cooking advice, while their father, Roger, sampled their broth and rice.
“Deciding whose is better is really tough,” Roger said. “And it depends a lot on the judges. One might like something somebody else doesn’t like.”
Judges are selected from volunteers around three hours after the festival begins, and they rate each jambalaya dish on a five-star scale.
Children played in the rain with the dogs and swam while the judges deliberated, taking their time to sample and resample each jambalaya.
This year, Brandon Coulon and his assistant, Corey Babin, went home with first prize. Troy Blair won second, and Brian Mumphrey placed third.