Cooking up a champ

Jambalaya Festival again spices the weekend

Former World Champion Jambalaya Cook Ed Braud walked around the Jambalaya Festival cooking stations Saturday morning snapping photographs and talking to the cooks.

Braud, who cooked in the festival’s first four contests, winning at his fourth try in 1971, said he enjoys watching the cooks as they chop, stir and fuss over their pots of rice, chicken and other ingredients.

All the work, Braud said, is worth it when your name is called on the final day of the festival.

Scott Duplechein got that pleasure when he was named the 2013 World Champion Sunday. He and his wife, Kellie, cooked twice on Sunday, first in a two-part semifinal against 31 other cooks and again Sunday afternoon, when the top 12 fired up their black, cast iron pots for the final time in the contest.

When Braud cooked, the contest was a little different, with fewer cooks and rules, but the goal has always been the same: win the title World Champion.

“I wanted to be recognized as an accomplished jambalaya cook,” Braud said.

That’s still the goal today, as cooks spent the weekend competing in several contests for the chance to walk across the stage a winner.

While there are several titles awarded during the four-day festival, four are considered for the quadruple win — world champ, champ of champs, mini-pot division win and mini-pot champ of champs — a feat that has not yet been accomplished.

On the first night of the festival, which started on May 23, former world champions vied for the title Champ of Champs. That title went to 2008 World Champion Jody Elisar.

Friday night, Kim LeBlanc, was named Mini-Pot Champ of Champs, the third time that title has been bestowed.

On Saturday morning, 22 children and youths competed in the first of two mini-pot rounds of competition, with the adults cooking in the afternoon.

The mini-pot contests are fundraisers for the Dream Day Foundation, which raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Clay Parent won the children’s division and Grant Harris won the junior division.

The mini-pot women’s division was won by Lyell Turner, and Jay Alexis won the men’s division.

Alexis won the first mini-pot Champ of Champs contest in 2011, and his daughter, Blair, 15, was the reigning champion in the Tiny Pot contest.

Alexis beat his cooking partner “Tee” Wayne Abshire in the mini pots and the two went on to compete in the finals of the World Champion contest Sunday afternoon.

Cooking strategy

It’s not unusual to find cooks competing in both the large and mini-pot contests. The mini-pot contest, in which cooks prepare one cup of rice, one cup of pork, a half cup of sausage and seasonings, gives cooks another shot at winning a title.

After all, it’s called competitive cooking for a reason. The men, women and children who enter the contests are competitive individuals who want to win a title.

And since cooks have to be 18 to compete for the World Champion title, mini-pot cooking is a way to prepare for the big leagues.

There were father and daughter teams, husband and wife teams, and coworkers teaming up for the competition.

But in the end, Duplechein’s final pot got the highest score and the win.

Duplechein tried a new strategy this year on his way to the win. In an effort to double their chances of winning, Scott and Kellie cooked in one preliminary round with Scott as the cook and Kellie as the helper and then turned the tables with Kellie cooking as the main cook and Scott serving in the back-up role.

Scott, who was the Jeff Parent’s helper in 2007 when Parent won the title, has been cooking without Parent since 2009.

Parent decided to skip the festival this year and was on a cruise during the weekend.

“It’s a funny story about how he found out,” Duplechein said. “We were trying to text him photos and info throughout the weekend, but nothing went through.

“Then on Monday morning, our phone blew up and all the messages went through,” Duplechein said.

Duplechein said the win was an early 20th wedding anniversary gift for him and his wife, who will celebrate their 20th anniversary on June 18.

“Yeah, it’s starting out to be a good summer,” he said.

Duplechein said that while he is competitive, he enjoys cooking in festivals and fundraisers “because it’s for the community.”

“Most people don’t know how much money the Jambalaya Festival puts back into the community through fundraisers for other groups,” he said. “It’s a way to give back to the community, a fun way, and we get to cook jambalaya.