For the past 12 years, Knights of Columbus Council 3796 in St. Gabriel, La., has sponsored the Pa-Pa George Fairchild Jambalaya Cook-Off, named for the man who won the inaugural Jambalaya Festival held in nearby Gonzales, the “Jambalaya Capital of the World.”
Proceeds for the annual fall event go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The most recent cook-off raised $17,274 for the children of St. Jude, bringing the 12-year total to $149,061.
“St. Jude is a wonderful place where miracles happen every day,” said Theresa Roy, wife of Grand Knight Wayne Roy and cook-off coordinator. “St. Jude never gives up on curing a child with cancer or any other catastrophic disease, and patients and their families are never asked to repay money for treatment.”
For those unfamiliar, jambalaya originated in Louisiana and is influenced by Spanish, West African and French cuisine. It consists mainly of meat and vegetables mixed with rice, and there are Cajun and Creole variations.
The meat may include sausage, usually andouille or another smoked meat, as well as chicken, pork and shellfish such as crawfish or shrimp. The vegetables traditionally include the “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery and green bell pepper, but carrots, okra, tomatoes, garlic and chilis may be added. Cajun (or “dry”) jambalaya does not use tomatoes and is smokier and spicier than the Creole (or “wet”) variety. In each variety, the meats and vegetables are first browned and sautéed, and then the rice, broth and seasonings are added so that the entire dish is cooked until the rice is tender.
Fifty-seven pots of jambalaya were cooked for the most recent event at St. Gabriel, located in Iberville Parish in the greater Baton Rouge area. Cooks pay a $150 entry fee to participate, and all ingredients are provided by the council.
Despite hot and humid weather with a strong chance of rain, area cooks kicked off the day at 6 a.m. with a light breakfast before starting their wood fires. At 10 a.m., 16 children competitors began their own small fires to prepare their mini-pots of jambalaya.
By 10:30 a.m., the adult chefs were to have their samples ready for judging by the Jambalaya Association. “The jambalaya is judged by color, rice texture, overall taste, and meat texture,” Roy explained.
The balance of the afternoon was taken up with an auction, live music, a raffle, various games, and fellowship – not to mention lots of plates of jambalaya.
The cook-off awards were given out by Brook Everett, queen of the 2018 Queen of the Jambalaya Festival, and 6-year-old Gracie LeBlanc, a St. Jude patient who served as this year’s queen.
LeBlanc, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at the age of 2, was presented with a St. Jude quilt made of squares colored by the children of the cook-off, and her friends from Tippy Toe Dance Studio in her hometown of Donaldsonville performed in her honor. “I am so glad that Gracie was able to be a part of such an awesome event,” said her mother. “It was incredible and very touching day.”
Roy recalled the day she learned her 2-year-old cousin Lauren was diagnosed with cancer and admitted to St. Jude’s. Lauren is now an 18-year-old high school senior who will leave for college in the fall. She will continue to get checkups at St. Jude’s and participate in a cancer study. “Lauren and our family calls St. Jude a blessing from God,” said Roy.
Taking first place in the Jambalaya Cook-off were Doty and Adam Gauteau, while young Micha Courville took top honors in the children’s mini-pot contest.
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