Gonzales is the “Jambalaya Capital of the World.”
In 1967, this term was only an inspiration in the mind of Steve Juneau to promote the City of Gonzales. Juneau, a native of Avoyelles, was very impressed with the Jambalaya prepared by area cooks. He thought this would be a great method to promote the city. The idea was presented to the Gonzales Lions Club and the annual Jambalaya Festival was born. As the idea spread across Ascension Parish, many non-profit civic groups and fraternal organizations were invited to get involved. The festival would be used as a vehicle to raise money for community projects supported by them.
By this time, what began as an inspiration was already too big for any one group to take on independently. An executive committee was formed consisting of Steve Juneau, John D. Gonzales, Clarance Berteau, Sidney Amedee, Jr., McGuffy Fife, C.R. “Pete” Bourque, Melvin Hebert, Harvey Dupuy and M.J. Decoux. They met at the Fiesta Grill in Gonzales. Steve Juneau was elected as the first president of the newly formed Jambalaya Festival Association. They agreed that the sole purpose of the festival would be to promote the city of Gonzales. On June 10, 1968, John J. McKeithen, then Governor of Louisiana, proclaimed Gonzales, Louisiana as the “Jambalaya Capital of the World.”
In mid-June of 1968, the first festival was held. Thirteen cooks vied to be crowned “World Jambalaya Cooking Champion.” Participants included: Clarence Anderson, Earl P. Bercegeay, Linden Bercegeay, Edward Braud III, W.J. “Gil” Braud, Uton Diez, George Fairchild, Edward Gaudin, Charles M. Gautreau, Authur “Fatty” Lessard, Sitman Loupe, E.L. Marchand and Donnie Mire. This year the competition is greater than ever. At least 69 cooks have put their name on the line to out cook the others for the world title.
By 1971, the festival was drawing crowds of nearly 50,000. Sixteen cooks stirred their paddle in the pot, trying to win the silver trophy. That year, the Jambalaya race for quarter-horses emerged at the Dutchtown racetrack. The Jambalaya Art show attracted over 500 participants which made it one of the major art shows in the south. 1972 introduced the “Mini Pot” jambalaya cooking contest. In this case, the chefs had more fun cooking it than eating it. The dish was cooked in the “World’s Smallest Jambalaya Pot,” a tradition which continues to this day. This year, over 40 will participate in this event.
Many innovations have been tried throughout the years, including a car show, boxing contest, 5K and 1 mile Fun Run, craft show, story-telling, sky diving exhibition, hot air balloonists, model airplane exhibition, Jambalaya Singers, bike races, bed races, cloggers, dancers, can-can girls, Jambalaya Beauty Pageant, Crowning of a Jambalaya King & Queen, Champ of Champs Cooking Contest, baseball, tennis and golf tournaments and many more activities.
Find out more
To find out more about the Jambalaya Festival held each year in Gonzales over the Memorial Day weekend, visit the Jambalaya Festival’s website.