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Experience our state’s rich heritage by joining in on these food-related celebrations

NOL Oct07_MedRes_Page_38_Image_0001.jpgGumbo, tamales, peppers, French food and Hungarian cuisine. What do these foods have in common? All are the subject of festivals that take place in Louisiana. The month of October is a veritable festival of food festivals. The difficulty comes in choosing where to go and what to eat. Consulting the single best resource for all things festival, Huli’s Louisiana Festivals 2007 Calendar ($15, available in most bookstores), lovingly compiled by Julie Posner, I separated the wheat from the chaff, culling the best food festivals, and made my list. With some memories from festivals past and further research—surfing the Internet and many telephone calls—I knew one thing for certain: The chance to taste 70 gumbos, one of which made by a renowned New Orleans restaurant chef, was too good to pass up.

New Iberia–born Chuck Subra of LaCôte Brasserie makes a deep, dark and delicious duck and andouille gumbo for the restaurant. It’s been on the menu since he took the helm, and no one—no one but Subra—makes this gumbo. His crew might chop the vegetables and set out the seasonings, but Subra puts the gumbo together alone, at a burner in the back of the kitchen, and prepares it when no one is watching. The intense flavors he pulls from the rich duck and well-seasoned sausage, curl around and through the medium-thick, dark roux–based broth that is accented by seasoning vegetables. It’s a lovely marriage, a magnificent bowl of gumbo. This gumbo is his grandmother’s secret recipe, and he’s not telling anyone, not even his wife. However, he is, for the first time, entering Grandma’s gumbo in the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff on October 14.

New Iberia’s World Championship Gumbo Cookoff and Gumbo Cookoff Food Festival takes place at the sunny Bouligny Plaza on historic Main Street. The party begins October 13 at 11 a.m. (till 10 p.m.), with the Cajun and Creole food festival offering favorites like boudin, jambalaya and étoufée, but on that day no gumbo.

Cookoff day is October 14, and the pot stirring begins at sunrise. According to contest rules, contestants must cook without electricity and the roux must be prepared on site. With 70 teams competing this year, the judging will be intense. As always, the gumbo styles and flavors vary, with gumbos ranging from traditional (seafood, chicken and sausage) to esoteric (wild mushroom, rabbit, quail, alligator). A crew known as the Gumbo Police check each team’s ingredients before cooking commences and survey the plaza cooking area all day. Cooking enthusiasts interested in seeing the process from cold pot to hot gumbo, may come early, observe and ask questions, but no gumbo is served to the public before 11 a.m. And, although the festival stretches until 4 p.m., don’t expect to find much, if any, gumbo after 1 p.m.

Here are more October picks for mouthwatering food-related festivals:

Hungarian Celebration
October 6, Springfield — Cabbage rolls, cucumber salad, kolbasz sandwiches, kiflis and kalacs. www.magyars.org

Zwolle Tamale Fiesta

October 12–13, Zwolle — Tamales rock. What more needs to be said? www.zwollela.net/tamale.asp

Pepper Festival
October 21, St. Martinville — Chowchow, pepper plants, pepper-laced food and pepper cookbooks. www.stmartinkiwanis.org/pepper_festival_schedule.htm

French Food Festival
October 26–28, Larose — Food