DINING

FOUR-TIME CHAMP: Gautreau wins World Jambalaya Cook title

Wade McIntyre
World Champion Jambalaya Cook Byron Gautreau heads to the stage after winning his fourth championship Sunday at the 42nd Annual Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales. The 62-year-old Gautreau competed against 119 other cooks to win the title.

Sunday afternoon during the finals of the Jambalaya Cooking Contest in Gonzales, two former champions engaged in a friendly verbal joust.

1996 World Champion Jambalaya Cook T. Wayne Abshire and three-time World Champion Jambalaya Cook Byron Gautreau both said they would not change their recipes this year, just tweak them a bit for the judges.

Jambalaya judges are fickle, the two agreed, and lady luck always plays a hand in the winning of the jambalaya cooking title.

“If they had just tasted my jambalaya in ‘96, I would have won that year,” Gautreau said.

“Everybody knows that the best judges were in the years that I won my championships.”

“We’re part of the Brotherhood of Jambalaya,” Abshire grinned, ignoring the jab at his championship year.

Later in the day, Gautreau had the last word again as he captured the Jambalaya Festival Association’s World Champion Cook title for the fourth time at the 42nd Annual Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales.

The 62-year-old  Gautreau joins Ricky Breaux as the only other 4-time winner in festival history.

Both men now chase jambalaya cooking legend Norbert Loupe with six wins.

“Somebody had to say a prayer and make all this happen today,” Gautreau said on the EATEL stage as he accepted his award. The champ was referring not only to his victory, but to the beautiful day despite  a weekend filled with predictions of rain.

Gautreau noted that when he won his first contest in 1992 he competed against between 30 and 40 people. “I beat 120 people today,” he said.

Many of the newcomers are not part of the “old timers” hierarchy that brought the festival back to Gonzales after it moved around the parish in its early years, but rather youngsters who have taken up the jambalaya cooking spirit.

“Some of the kids here today cooked as good as me,” Gautreau admitted.

One of the “kids” was 22-year-old Brandon Elisar, who in his first try at cooking in the contest made it to the finals this year.  Brandon’s father Jody Elisar cooked in the finals 17 times before winning the 2008 championship with Brandon as his helper.

With his current helper, daughter Britney, Jody Elisar captured the Champ of Champs Contest Thursday to become the first champion to win that title while still holding the reigning cooking championship.

“I cooked around 4,500 pounds of rice this year as JFA champion and have had a blast,” Elisar said. “My goal this year is just to get into the finals.”

According to Master of Ceremonies Todd Long of festival sponsor Gerry Lane Enterprises, five father and son teams and one father and daughter team competed this year. There were also two sets of brothers competing as cook and helper.

“You had a lot of newcomers in the finals this year,” Long said. “I think it is worth noting that Chris Johnson and Leo Graves with the Gonzales Fire Department cooked in the contest for the first time and made it to the semi-finals.”

JFA President Wally Taillon said the crowd Saturday night was one of the biggest he had seen, and that overall the festival was one of the best attended.

In between the carnival rides, car show, Mini-Pot cooking contest, big pot cooking demonstration and non-stop music on indoor and outdoor band stages, the crowds took time to remember the son of a regular jambalaya cooking contestant who drowned last week while surf fishing in Grand Isle.

Long said the JFA collected around $3,200 in just a few minutes from festivalgoers and cooking contestants who contributed in remembrance of Robbie Savoy, Jr., the son of JFA cook Judy Savoy. The money, Long said, will be placed in a scholarship fund for Robbie Savoy’s son.