Although the food remains one of the biggest draws to the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, this year’s theme also plays off a new industry that has drawn excitement in New Iberia recently.
The Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce chose “Lights, Cameras, Gumbo” as the idea behind this year’s cookoff, which sees teams from all over the state competing for the coveted title of best gumbo.
There’s an obvious cinematic theme that goes along with the title, which many have guessed pays tribute to downtown New Iberia’s debut on the Lifetime cable network.
In late August and early September, camera crews were up and down Main Street filming for a movie set in New Iberia. Billed as a multi-generational love story, the film makes use of some of the most scenic areas of the city.
The film is set at Christmastime, which prompted Mayor Freddie DeCourt and downtown New Iberia businesses to set up the holiday season early downtown, with local businesses showing off Christmas decorations during the summer.
The storyline takes place at the 50th anniversary of the fictional Sugar Cane Christmas Festival, and much of the film was shot outdoors and around downtown, complete with dance sequences around the fountain on the plaza in front of City Hall.
A film crew in town excited the imagination of many local residents about the possibilities of future films in New Iberia. By the end of filming, DeCourt said he was proud of New Iberia for being so gracious to the cast and crew.
Janet Faulk-Gonzales, president and CEO of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, said, however, that the Gumbo Cookoff’s theme was purely coincidental with the film.
One of the first things the cookoff’s committee does is decide which theme next year’s cookoff will have. The themes are provided by Promotional Images, and the committee decides around the second meeting of the year which one they want to go with.
“Every year for 30 years, Promotional Images has brought us options for a theme and it’s one of the first things we do,” Faulk-Gonzales said. “We liked ‘Lights, Cameras, Gumbo’ and interestingly we didn’t know there would be a movie filmed in New Iberia.”
The theme for each Gumbo Cookoff decides the decorations, poster and style of the annual event. Some of the Gumbo Cookoff teams also go all in on the theme, decorating their booths and even performing skits to show off their enthusiasm for the cookoff.
There was also another film connection to the cookoff. At a prior cookoff, a film crew was present to film a documentary based on gumbo itself. The crew used the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff as a spot to interview cooks about the famous Louisiana food, and eventually produced a full-length documentary.
The film, titled “GUMBO,” debuted at the Iberia Film Festival in early August with a full audience at the Sliman Theater.
Creators of the film billed “GUMBO” as a documentary that further explains the details of cooking gumbo including the basic components, its historical and cultural implications and the various types of gumbo. This film is told from the filmmaker’s point of view, fully investigating all theories of origin, and providing a variety of preparations and perspectives.
Faulk-Gonzales said there were 30 teams this year who were committed to decorating their booths for the cookoff, a number substantially larger than previous years.
According to the chamber, the Gumbo Cookoff has been helping bring business and stimulate New Iberia’s economy for decades. The economic impact of the event is conservatively estimated around $2 million. While admission is free, tickets to purchase food and drinks will be available all weekend. Those interested in entering the Gumbo Cookoff are asked to contact the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce at 364-1836.
The cookoff opens Saturday starting at 8 a.m. with the 5K Roux Run. The Cajun Creole Food Fest and Meanest Beans Cookoff take place throughout the day, with Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band taking the main stage at 11 a.m.
Serving begins for the Youth Gumbo Cookoff at 3 p.m.
The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff takes place Sunday, Oct. 13, with serving beginning at 10 a.m. Geno Delafose and the French Rockin’ Boogie perform at 10 a.m. and Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hell Raisers perform at 1 p.m.
The awards ceremony will take place at 3:30 p.m.
New additions to the event include the “T-Rex” Gumbotron, a 25-foot-tall screen that will display messages from supporters, live footage of the event and an interactive social media wall; the continuation of the cooking demonstrations and new live interviews broadcasted over Bouligny Plaza.
Follow the Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and Twitter to get updates before and during the cookoff, or visit iberiachamber.org.