MOBILE, Alabama -- In the South we have always prided ourselves on our ability to turn anything into an event worthy of a wager between friends.
Be it mumbly peg or yard darts, down here we love to put our money where our mouths are. It is how we roll and no apologies are necessary.
When you combine our innate ability to make a bet with our equally strong desire to cook, show off and brag, it's almost the perfect storm of Southern sensibilities. "It's game on," said Alabama restaurateur Bob Baumhower who, along with Louisiana chef John Folse, came up with the idea for the LA. Gumbo Festival to be held April 11-13 at The Wharf in Orange Beach, Ala.
For three days in the second week in April teams of amateur and professional gumbo cooks from Alabama and Louisiana will go head-to-head in a unique contest designed to settle once and for all which state makes the best bowl of the region's signature dish.
The event is the brainchild of Baumhower -- a successful Alabama restaurant owner and former football player - and Folse, who is a world-famous cookbook author and authority on Cajun and Creole cookery.
The aim, Baumhower said, was to put on a three-day event that pays homage to the Gulf Coast's signature dish in all its attendant forms. "Our two regions have a shared history that dates back to the 1700s and we have a lot in common. Not the least of which is our love of gumbo,' he said.
Both Louisiana (LA) and Lower Alabama (L.A.) have strong opinions about gumbo.
And as you might imagine with an event where so much is on the line, there has already been a good measure of good-natured trash talking between the participants. Folse lobbed the first volley with a tongue-in-cheek jab at Lower Alabama's "alleged gumbo makers."
la gumbo.jpg Seafood, lots and lots of seafood, are the prime components in a good, hearty bowl of gumbo. But it also takes a measure of skill to make it turn out just right. (Birmingham News file photo)
Baumhower, not one to let an affront go unchallenged, by saying "We allegedly have good football teams in Alabama with, I think, four national championships in a row," he said with a laugh.
The event will include gumbo cook-offs in two divisions: foodie (amateur) and professional. Both events will kick off at 8:3 a.m. on Saturday, April 13. Judging will begin at 11:30 a.m. with cash prizes awarded in both categories.
First prize in both divisions carry a $500 prize, second place wins $300 and third place nets the winner $200. But the professional division will be divided between Alabama and Louisiana chefs competing in an in-state contest.
Then the winners from the two states will compete for the Grand Prize title and an additional $1,000 prize. Some $500 will be awarded to the People's Choice winner, as well as the best decorated booth.
The festival is free. People's Choice tickets are $2 each or $20 for 30 tickets.
To keep things on a level playing field, each team will be provided with identical ingredients with which to prepare a five gallon pot of gumbo. The ingredients, that are being donated by the Alabama Seafood Promotion Board, include: lump crabmeat, crab claw meat, peeled and de-veined shrimp, head-on shrimp (21-25 count), shucked oysters, whole crawfish, crawfish tails, Alabama catfish and alligator meat.
Competitors can choose any or all of these free items, as well as a host of other common gumbo ingredients. Gumbo crabs, chicken wings, smoked sausage (two types), bacon, smoked ham hocks, pork shoulder, and shrimp base will be offer.
But some other non-traditional items will also be available including turkey necks, beef brisket, chicken livers and even potatoes.
In short, all the ingredients will be provided by the organizers. Well, almost.
And since gumbo recipes are often wrapped in secrecy and mystery, teams are allows to add one more secret ingredient, but they are required to bring that one with them.
There will also be gumbo cooking demonstrations, live music throughout the event and arts and craft. Along the way Baumhower hopes to break the Guinness world record for the largest pot of gumbo.
A host of celebrity "pot stirrers" will be on hand stirring the massive pot of gumbo. They include former University of Alabama quarterback Kenny Stabler and Food Network celebrity Martie Duncan of Birmingham.
Folse and Baumhower are no strangers to competing over a pot of gumbo; or trying to set records, for that matter. In 2011 they broke the existing gumbo record during a cook-off that took place prior to the football game between the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University in Tuscaloosa.
They set a new standard with a truly massive cauldron of gumbo, 3,710 pounds of the good stuff, to be exact. Bowls of that record-breaking gumbo were sold and the proceeds used to help victims of the devastating tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa in 2010.
But Folse and Baumhower weren't satisfied. As soon as they first record was set they began thinking about how to break it. Folse provided the first pot and he was confident that he could supply one even bigger. And he did.
The pot that they will be using in Orange Beach is capable of holding upwards of 4,000 pounds, Baumhower said. "We're going to break that record," he said. "I'm not sure how much but I'm confident that we are going to smash our old record and I expect people will want to get a bowl of the world record," he added.
Baumhower hopes to make this an annual event. "I love it that we can disagree on this and I think that it's something that we can build on," he said.
He gave a large measure of credit for the event to Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon and his staff, as well as the team at The Wharf. "They all have given us whatever we needed to make this happen and I can't thank them enough," he said.
For information on the event, visit www.gumboforlife.com or call Kent Lyman at 251-408-7973. You can send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.