'Gumbo Man' To Retire From Chackbay Gumbo Festival

CHACKBAY, LA (AP) — After 16 years, the man behind the gumbo at the Louisiana Gumbo Festival of Chackbay is hanging up his ladle.

         "It's time for a younger generation, the younger crowd to come in and learn what it's about," said Evan Plaisance. "It's not all peaches and cream."

         In 1999, Plaisance started volunteering with the festival, which benefits the Chackbay Volunteer Fire Department, and happened to be assigned to the kitchen where there was an opening for kitchen chairman.

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         "I said I cook all the time, I can do that," Plaisance said. "I had cooked some gumbos in the past boiling pot size, so I said what's the difference?"

         Over the years, he's tweaked the seafood gumbo and the chicken and sausage gumbo into the recipes that exist today.

         He'll show off the two-page list of ingredients and their quantities, but it's the sequence of the ingredients and the way the mixture is seasoned throughout the process that really makes the gumbo, he said.

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         To make his famous gumbo, Plaisance draws on his own cooking experience and the culinary skills taught to him by his grandmother and NaNa Rodrigue.

         "(Rodrigue) always told me, when you flavor, you do a light dusting across the pot all the way across," he said. "That's basically what you do, a little bit at a time. You're not adding a whole bunch, you're just adding a little bit. You can always add, you can't take it out once you put it in."

         All seasoning for the made from scratch gumbo goes through Plaisance.

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         "We're all cooks, but whoever's in charge of the kitchen is in charge of the kitchen," said Fred Mars, a former Chackbay fire chief who assists with making the gumbo.

         While Plaisance is the "Gumbo Man," it's a team effort to make almost 500 gallons of gumbo for the three-day festival.

         The kitchen team starts at 5 a.m. Friday peeling 400 pounds of potatoes, and cooking begins three hours later.

         "It's like a bunch of bees, working together," said Mars, who is also retiring from the kitchen crew after 45 years cooking at the festival.

         This year's festival marks 50 years since Janice Ordoyne started making the potato salad for the festival after the woman who previously made it died. Her potato salad recipe went with her.

         "Everybody said what are we going to do?" Ordoyne remembers. "I said I'll try. I'll come up with a recipe and if you don't like it, that's it. But everybody's going to have the recipe."

         Not only has Ordoyne been working alongside Plaisance for more than a decade at the festival, but she helped deliver him at the hospital.

         "I slapped him on the butt and he's been behaving ever since," she said.

         On a festival day, the team comes together to help serve a line of people that wraps around the building, all waiting for a small or large carton of gumbo.

         "It's a rush," Plaisance said.

         Plaisance has met a few characters along the way, including one man who kept hollering over the crowd demanding to know who had cooked the gumbo.

         "I looked over there and from behind the pots I walked up, and I kept the cooler between he and I, just in case," Plaisance said. "He's says, 'I want to know who cooked that gumbo.' I said, 'Well, I did.'"

         Then the man went to shake Plaisance's hand.

         "He said, 'That's the best gumbo I ever ate.'"

         This weekend was one of the busiest in the festival's history, and the kitchen team went through 190 gallons of gumbo on Saturday alone, Plaisance said today.

         "For our last year we're going out with a bang," Mars said.

         Plaisance said he'll miss being as involved in the festival and seeing the joy on people's faces when they eat his gumbo.

         "You can judge for yourself on what our food tastes like and tell me whether it tastes homemade or like fair food, in a sense, because I pride myself on cooking from the heart," he said, choking up. "That's what I do. I'm not going to serve something I wouldn't serve at home."

         – by AP/ Reporter Meredith Burns with The Daily Comet

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