Indulge for a Good Cause

The King Cake Festival returns to Champions Square to raise money for Ochsner Hospital for Children.

It is a special time of transition in New Orleans. The Christmas trees are being stripped of their décor and recycled into wetland protection material. The menorahs are being warmed in the oven to remove that last stubborn bit of candle wax. And, most visibly, the evergreen wreaths on front doors are being replaced with replicas of king cakes created by school children or crafty adults.

The traditional king cake as it exists in New Orleans is an oval wonder of purple, green and gold sugar topping a brioche-type cake flavored with cinnamon. Hidden inside is a little plastic baby, representing good luck, the fact that “you’re it” and have to buy the next cake, and, yes, even the new mascot for our minor-league baseball team. One thing the arrival of that baby and its cake definitively represent, however, is the beginning of Carnival season.

Harnessing our excitement for this special treat is the fourth annual King Cake Festival on Jan. 29, 2017, at Champions Square. More than 26 Louisiana bakeries will compete in multiple categories and will be judged by a panel as well as by the fans. Growing in popularity every year, more than 12,000 people attended in 2016.

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The King Cake Festival has become an important annual fundraiser for Ochsner Hospital for Children. A single past event raised upward of $170,000 for various pediatric programs. The family-friendly festival is free and open to the public and raises funds through sponsorships, vendor agreements and “tasting ticket” sales.

To participate in the gluttony and fan judging, you can purchase 10 tasting tickets for $10. After you have tried 10 or 20 or 26 bakeries, you can vote for your favorite. The 2016 People’s Choice winner was Maurice’s French Pastries. Other categories and winners were: Best Presentation: Maurice’s Bourbon Street King Cake; Best Traditional Cake: Caywood & Randazzo Bakery; Most Unique: Tiramisu King Cake by Nonna Randazzo’s Bakery; Best Non-Traditional Cake: Tiramisu King Cake by Nonna Randazzo’s Bakery; and Most Likely to Replace a Meal: Daddy’s Donuts Crawdaddy King Cake.

Of course, eating myriad king cakes isn’t the healthiest thing you can do on a Sunday, so Ochsner, being the health-minded organization that it is, has incorporated athletic events into the festival. Start your morning with a run and those calories don’t count, right?

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The 4.5K Gladiator Rep Run kicks off the festival at 9 a.m. The 2.8-mile timed course leads runners around Champions Square and the upper level of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, incorporating eight ramps, 300 stairs and nine fitness stations lead by Ochsner fitness instructors. Each challenge must be completed to qualify as a finisher.

If you aren’t a “Ninja Warrior” but still want to add some wellness to your festival experience, the Family Fun Run is planned for 9:45 a.m. This 1-mile run is a timed course around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. If you are running with a stroller, consider decorating it. There will be a contest for the best-decorated. For visitors who will be running, keep in mind that New Orleanians use any excuse to wear a costume. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of wigs and tutus.
Beside “Best Stroller,” awards will be given to the first overall finisher, first youth male and first youth female finishers in both races. Awards include a year’s supply of free Smoothie King products and club level tickets to a 2017 Pelican’s game.

There will also be live music. At the time of printing the lineup had not yet been announced, but previous years have featured Bucktown All-Stars, Flow Tribe, Cowboy Mouth, Amanda Ducorbier and others.

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The King Cake Festival is open to the general public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29. On-site registration for the fitness activities begins at 8 a.m. at Gate D on the Superdome deck level. Registration fees include both races, though you can choose to participate in one or the other. Pre-registration is $15 for children 12 and under and $25 for adults. Day-of registration is $20 for children and $30 for adults. Fees include a T-shirt, bib number, Smoothie King samples and five tasting tickets for adults or five game tickets for youth participants.

For more information on participating bakeries, the music lineup announcement and to pre-register for the races, visit

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. Prior to New Orleans, she wrote for publications in the Midwest and New York City.

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