Dang Douille crowns new champ; Larry Zeno returns to gumbo cook-off

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, October 18, 2017

LAPLACE — While crowds enjoyed breezy weather, live music and zesty food Saturday at the 44th annual Andouille Festival in LaPlace, competitive spirits highlighted the gumbo cook-off and fifth annual “Dang Douille” andouille eating contest, where participants were eager to prove their cooking and eating prowess.

Chad Duhe, Chris Cancienne and Jason Montegut reigned supreme at the eating contest, and Larry Zeno’s prized recipe took home first place at the chicken and andouille gumbo cook-off for the second year in a row.

Competitors gathered just after 1 p.m. on the main stage and were presented with styrofoam bowls filled to the brim with chopped andouille.

Jerry W. Jones Jr., director of economic development for St. John the Baptist Parish, served as the master of ceremonies and reminded participants that slow and steady wins the race.

For the next three minutes, eight competitors vigorously chewed mouthfuls of andouille, sipping water in between bites. It was a close battle between returning champ Cancienne, owner of Cypress Physical Therapy in LaPlace, and newcomer Chad Duhe, representing Acadian Ambulance Services.

At the end of the allotted time, Jones checked the bowls and declared Duhe the 2017 first place winner and recipient of a $300 check presented by Laverne Toombs, St. John Parish chief administrative officer.

Laverne Toombs announces Chad Duhe as the eating contest champ, while presenting him a $300 check.

“Every year, I watch the contest,” Duhe said. “This was the first year I got the nerve to do it.”

He said the competition wasn’t difficult because he’s used to scarfing down andouille while preparing gumbo, and he was very happy to win and receive his big check.

Cancienne was awarded a $200 check for achieving second place, and Montegut received $100 for coming in third.

Shaman “Cajun Beastmode” Bell came in fourth this year after taking home third place in 2014 and 2016, but he put forth his best effort and said he always has fun participating.

“It’s about having fun and eating andouille,” he said. “It’s the same few guys every year. Chris won last year and came in second place this time. I’ve got to learn his secret.”

Miss Andouille Laeh Alexander and Miss Teen Andouille Patience Pray also participated in the eating contest and served as judges for the gumbo cook-off later in the day. Alecia Johnson, teacher of the year for St. John Child Development Center in Garyville, stepped in as a third judge.

The andouille and chicken gumbo cook-off lasted from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and it was a quiet affair compared to the andouille-eating contest.

Larry Zeno took home first place with his masterful recipe last year, and he returned ready to replicate his success. Though there were more competitors in 2016 and only one other entry this year, he still planned to take the same approach.

“There were about six or seven other people last year, but we’re not going to cut it short,” Zeno said. “I’m going to give it 110 percent.”

Larry Zeno stirs up his first place meal in the chicken and andouille gumbo cook-off.

Zeno, owner of Big Z’s BBQ Catering, said he comes from a cooking family and did catering on the side for over five years before starting his business last year. Today, he specializes in cooking barbecue, jambalaya, party dishes, comfort foods and seafood.

As his family assisted with chopping ingredients, he carefully stirred his roux.

“I love cooking outside,” Zeno said. “I’d take outdoor cooking over cooking on a stove any day.”

He was particularly excited to be back at the Andouille Festival to gain more exposure for his products in the gumbo cook-off and in on-site cooking demonstrations, where he prepared a pulled pork meal.

Zeno once again took home first place, and judge Johnson said her decision came down to critiquing texture, flavor and seasoning.

Debra Brown of Reserve also participated. Though she is not involved in a culinary profession, she came to the Festival eager to compete because she loves cooking and always gets great feedback from her children.

She arrived early in the morning and prepared her gumbo before 1 p.m. For the next few hours, she relaxed and enjoyed watching people pass by.

Brown said cooking outside presents some challenges, especially with the wind, but it didn’t bother her because she’s an avid camper and has prepared meals outdoors on many occasions.

— By Brooke Robichaux