In October, the Rogers family embarked on their trip to New Iberia Louisiana in order to compete in one of the toughest gumbo competitions in the world: The 29th Gumbo Cook-Off World Championship. Teams come from all over the US as well as internationally to see how their gumbo measures up. The competition wasn’t a disappointment for Cindy and Anthony Rogers, owners of Southern Harmony Cafe in Ridge Manor. The Southern Harmony team was selected as a finalist for their traditional chicken and sausage gumbo.
“We showed-up with a ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality,” said Cindy Rogers, “Not so much in a competitive way, but in a get-the-most-out-of-the-experience kind of way, ” she explained.
They entered nearly every category available including two different types of gumbo- the traditional chicken and sausage as well as the seafood gumbo. They soon learned why not many teams enter two different types of gumbo.
“It is a hard thing to do and do well. Really hard. Especially with a team as small as ours. Many teams had upwards of 10 people or more helping. We had 6 (if you count our sweet little daughter Patyn) but really more like 5 manning our ship,” Cindy remarked.
In accordance to their ‘go big’ mentality, in the midst of making the gumbos, they also prepared for the booth and costume showmanship contest.
Cindy said, “In between cooking the roux and adding the rest of the goodies to the gumbo pot we had to quickly throw on our Swamp Pirate costumes to go with our swampy part-Cajun, part-Cracker booth decorations cause well…yeah, we entered a booth and costume showmanship contest, too! We entered all these events with a little less than a month to prepare.”
Although the Rogers had a lot of fun, they had to maintain a certain gravity as cooking gumbo is serious business. Cindy described their approach and the significance of gumbo in the following way,
“You can’t just show-up and cook something called a ‘gumbo’ in Cajun Country and that be all there is to it. You have to enter something like this with great respect. This dish is near and dear to the hearts of every Louisianan and what qualifies as a gumbo in the country (Cajun style-dark rich flour/oil roux) differs greatly from the gumbo you’d find in the city (New Orleans/Creole style- lighter tomato and okra based). Most everyone who grew up anywhere near the country parts of central to south Louisiana, grew up eating the Cajun version. Our daughter, Haley, who claims this as her favorite, puts it this way, ‘It’s my childhood in a bowl.’ It is full of nostalgia and memories and-though there is room for personal expression and creativity to some degree…there are very, VERY, specific things that must be present for a Cajun gumbo to pass the test in Cajun country. We knew that with us being from out-of-town that our entry might be viewed with suspicion-even though I am a Louisiana native. We also knew it’d be a long shot that we’d even receive any acknowledgement for our efforts being that we were surrounded by so many excellent cooks/chefs that know what the judges are looking for. We really had no expectations attached to the outcome as we felt it an honor just to participate with so many skilled in the culinary arts and be so warmly welcomed by all the veterans there.”
In the end, all of their hard work paid off and the Rogers family took home several accolades as well as great memories. Their eldest daughter Haley placed first in the 5k Roux Run, while youngest daughter Patyn, 9, and son Brady, 15 took third place in the youth gumbo competition. Southern Harmony also won 2nd place for Best of Show.
The Southern Harmony team then waited with nervous anticipation to hear from the judges about their gumbos. Cindy recounted,
“All around us- veteran teams are having delivered to them these signs indicating they had made it to the finals. The signs were met with hoops and hollers as each team celebrated being selected as good-enough to move-up to the next round of judging. We celebrated with them as it was genuinely exciting to see their hard work rewarded! And then we waited some more…”
Eventually, the Southern Harmony team received their very own finalist sign.
“This would have been exciting no matter which gumbo entry it was for, but it was especially so because this Finalist Award was for the chicken and sausage version,” Cindy said.
She further explained, “This is the most traditional (it is nearly a religion in Louisiana). It is the one with the the strictest criteria and the one that would be met with the harshest scrutiny. So, naturally, we followed the example of the locals and did some hoopin’ and hollerin’ of our own!!! Whoo Hooo!!!”
While Southern Harmony did not place in the top 3 for the chicken and sausage gumbo, Cindy remarked,
“We left happy and feeling accomplished. With so many skilled and talented teams, we were honored to be selected as finalists from among them! We felt thankful for every gesture and show of support and especially for our sponsors who helped us get there! Each and every person was on our hearts and in our minds the whole time! We were so excited that we were able to bring back some wins for The Manor and the great state of Florida!”
Go get some gumbo at Southern Harmony Cafe:
34508 Cortez Blvd
Ridge Manor, FL 33523