Jambalaya Fest draws crowds to Gonzales

Lisa Yates @Lisa_editor
Scott Duplechein wins the title of World Champion, with his wife Kellie as helper, during the 46th annual Jambalaya Festival on Sunday, May 26.

Jambalaya took center stage — sometimes quite literally — in Gonzales on Sunday as part of a festival that featured the World Champion Cooking Contest.

This year Scott Duplechein won the world title, with his wife Kellie as helper.

"A lot of hard work, good judges and great help," were the secrets to winning, he said.

The team had competed since Friday, beating 108 others in the competition. Two semi-final heats were held Sunday to narrow the field. On Sunday morning, judges named 32 semi-finalists: 16 from the first four heats, and 16 from the last four.

On Sunday afternoon, judges chose 12 finalists to compete in the contest, including Tee Wayne Abshire, Cody Braud, Joey Cornett, Scott Duplechein, Mike Gonzales, Torey Humphrey, Kade Lanoux, James "Stump" Marchand, Jacob Mayer, Danny Robert, Jamie Rye and Jeremy Theriot.

"It took us five years to get us to this point, where we were not getting eliminated in the first round," Duplechein said.

Duplechein was presented with the Golden Paddle from last year's champ Danny Robert. Also for winning, he received a check for $2,000, a trophy, a cast-iron cooking pot, and a championship ring provided by Layne's Jewelry and Design. His helper Kellie received the double-headed axe, presented by The Jambalaya Association. In addition, the team took home the Budweiser Eagle from one of the sponsors.

The 46th annual Jambalaya Festival draws thousands of visitors to Gonzales every year, said Wally Taillon, president of The Jambalaya Association, which puts on the four-day event.

"This isn't just our association's jambalaya festival, but it is the community's jambalaya festival," he said.

Taillon said the festival helps put Gonzales — home to the Guinness World Record jambalaya — on the map and encourages visitors to return each year.

"We get visitors from all over the country," he said. "There's a guy here from Florida who's been coming to this festival every year since 1999."

When asked what was the biggest draw to the festival, most people agreed it was the jambalaya, though many like Leigh Ann Trepagnier were also enjoying the carnival with her two children.

"It is great family fun for the kids," she said. "It's good outside fun. I'm here with my son and daughter; my best-friend, her two sons and niece."

Tonya Harden of Sorrento said "the good jambalaya" brought her family to the festival.

"We haven't tried it yet," she said. "We're working our way up to it."

Glenda Parageau and her husband Luke found a shady spot under a tree to sit and eat their jambalaya while their two-year-old son Gabriel slept in his stroller.

"We've lived here for five years and have never been," she said. "Luke wanted to come today to try the jambalaya. Whenever we go to a game, he always has to try the jambalaya."

Luke Parageau described himself as a jambalaya enthusiast.

"I love jambalaya," he said. "I can't believe it's my first time here."

He said the jambalaya at the festival was "cooked to perfection."

Kristen Eckhardt said this was the first time she and her husband Louie had visited the festival.

"We just moved to Louisiana nine months ago," she said. "We moved here from Nebraska because Louie is a doctoral student studying Louisiana music."

Winniford Braxton traveled to the festival from Baton Rouge with her sister Cyris Johnson and her sister's son Ryder Sensley. She said they had sampled many of the foods at the festival, including jambalaya, nachos, snowballs, chicken on a stick and funnel cake.

"This is our first year here and we are enjoying it," she said. "We will definitely come back again."

Margaret Whitelaw, her husband Rob and their family from South Africa were in the area to do some shopping.

"We decided to drop in for lunch," she said. "This is our first time trying jambalaya. It's very good. We don't have anything like this in South Africa. The closest we have is Breyani, an Indian dish made with curry, chicken and rice."

The festival also featured live entertainment, featuring music on three stages throughout the festival, a car show, a 5K run, a mini-pot contest and champions competing for the Champ of Champs title.

Terese Sherman, who was visiting from north Louisiana, said she was born in Gonzales, but hadn't been back in a while. She returned for the festival.

"I have two brothers playing in the band Yeti Buford," she said. "I also came to see my uncle, the current champ Danny Robert. He made it to the finals again this year."

Steve Smith sat with his 6-year-old great granddaughter Camille Starkovich as she ate a cherry snowball. He said he came to the festival to spend time with family.

"I have a son playing in one of the bands that's playing inside the building: the Lil' Bayou Band," he said.

Jylane Vieillion, who was with her brother Greg, said she's been coming to the festival for the past five or six years.

"I came because I have a friend in the contest, Woody Woodward" she said. "Also, I like the bands and the atmosphere here. It's just good country people having fun."