Jambalaya title 10 years in the making

It took 10 years, but Chuck LeBlanc and his cooking team, Les Couyons or the “crazy ones,” can now say they’re the top cooks at the ExxonMobil United Way Jambalaya Cook-off.

LeBlanc, of Gonzales, and his team members — Mike Breau and his son, Joey Breau, both of Central, and Christina Scholmer, of Livonia — bested 60 other teams to win the 24th annual competition on Friday at the Baton Rouge refinery on Scenic Highway. They will represent ExxonMobil on Oct. 10 at the Capital Area United Way Jambalaya Jam, which kicks off this year’s campaign.

LeBlanc said he and Mike Breau “have been competing for about 10 years in this one. We’ve gotten close a couple of times, but never brought the trophy home. We got a third two years ago.”

Joey Breau joined the team about five years ago. This was the first year Scholmer was on the team.

“We’re calling her the good luck charm,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc makes jambalaya for a variety of charitable causes, including Habitat for Humanity, the Knights of Columbus and the Festival Latino sponsored by the Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. He’s also organized the Jambalaya Village at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Baton Rouge.

“I have a hard time saying no when charities call,” he said.

He said his ExxonMobil team’s winning recipe is the same one he always uses.

“I might tweak it a little bit,” he said. “The recipe is pretty consistent. I cook at the jambalaya competition in Gonzales and the Swamp Pop Festival for cystic fibrosis and use a competition-grade Jambalaya Festival Association recipe — no parboiled rice, no artificial flavorings.”

However, he wasn’t happy with the taste of the 15-gallon pot of jambalaya Les Couyons made at ExxonMobil on Friday.

“We used chopped frozen onions and bell pepper to save time, and I don’t normally do that. I didn’t like the jambalaya, but everyone else did,” he said.

Taking second place was the team of Robert Carroll, Mike Boudreaux and LeDell Whitfield. They also will participate in the CAUW citywide cook-off.

Third place went to Mike Catalano, Claudette Bradford, Kurt Maggio and Earl “Joey” Himes.

Each team cooked about 30 pounds of meat (chicken, pork and sausage) and 15 pounds of rice to serve more than 3,000 ExxonMobil employees, retirees and friends who attended the event, spokeswoman Jennifer Hughes said.

The jambalaya competition also began the ExxonMobil Refining and Chemical Complex United Way campaign.

“Our goal this year is to match the $1.5 million donation from 2012,” Hughes said.

Employees also used the event as a food drive, collecting nonperishable food items for the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.