Champ to defend cooking title

Reigning World Jambalaya-cooking Champion Danny Robert spent Saturday surrounded by festival queens from around the state and tiny pots of jambalaya.

Robert, who will pass the champ’s golden paddle trophy to a new cooking champion at the end of the month, will be surrounded by lots of jambalaya this month.

In Ascension Parish, Robert said, cooks see a high demand for jambalaya in May.

The weeks leading up to the Jambalaya Festival, which crowns the world champion each year, are filled with graduation parties, family functions and other events that serve the rice concoction that made Gonzales famous, Robert said.

By the time the festival rolls around, Robert will have cooked more than 2,000 pounds of rice in his yearlong job representing the Jambalaya Festival Association, the sponsors of the festival.

Robert, who cooked in the contest for 21 yeas before getting a win, cooked a jambalaya Saturday morning and spent the afternoon cooking with the queens.

“I’ll pretty much be cooking jambalaya at least five times a week between now and the festival,” Robert said.

All that cooking is practice for the 46th annual festival, set May 23 to May 26 along Irma Boulevard in Gonzales.

Robert, 51, who cooks with helper Kurt Waguespack in the festival, said he welcomes the practice.

Robert will join other former champs in cooking May 23 in the Champ of Champs contest.

Cooks have one last chance to register for the cooking contests at 6 p.m. Monday at the annual cooks’ meeting at the Gonzales Civic Center, JFA President Wally Taillon said.

Taillon expects more than 100 cooks this year.

The festival’s main cooking contest is divided into eight cooking rounds, or heats, over two days and the semifinals and final rounds on the final day of the four-day festival.

Cooking is done over wood-burning fires in outdoor cooking stations.

Many cooks, like Robert, cook in the contest year after year in the hopes of winning the title.

“It was a great feeling (to win),” Robert said.

The world champion wins a cash prize, a plaque and a golden paddle that includes the names of every winning cook.

Robert, who works as a supervisor at BASF in Geismar, said he got his first jambalaya recipe from Joe Guedry and has taken advice from “anybody I can over the years.”

“I don’t always use it (advice), but I’ll take it,” Robert said.

One of those former cooks lending advice was Robert’s brother-in-law and former world champ Jody Elisar. Elisar and Robert cooked jambalaya together over the years, he said.

Robert said he’s enjoyed traveling around the state representing the Jambalaya Festival.

In the history of the jambalaya festival, no one has won back-to-back titles.

Robert will try his hand at winning both the Champ of Champs and the world title during this year’s festival.

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