by The Great Foodini

It was a perfectly Southern afternoon. Hot, humid with cicadas chirping overhead in the tops of tall pine trees on the green banks of the Flint Creek Water park reservoir as I laid propped up an elbow on a blanket in the shade watching my sons splash in the reservoir.

It was the scene out of a novel as my wife lay next to me soaking up the heat and just sighed a long “this is perfect” while she drifted in and out of a nap.

The setting was the outskirt of the annual Flint Creek Seafood Festival and this small community was out in force while braving the heat and lined up in front of vendors selling pulled pork sandwiches, fried catfish, boiled shrimp platters and my favorite of the day, fried gator tails on a stick.

I had been asked to show up as a celebrity judge for their annual gumbo cook off. I was asked if I had ever judged before and I told them yes, although never gumbo, but I felt I was a gumbo aficionado. With that explanation, the sat me down and started bringing bowls for me to try.

Three of the bowls that I tried definitely stood out in my mind as a contender for any gumbo competition I have been to in the past.

One of the first bowls I tried was chocked full of crawfish meat and I was tasked with judging it based on five categories, appearance, aroma, consistency, texture and flavor. This bowl got almost a perfect score until I realized…where’s the damn okra?

For those of you who are now judging me and my self-proclaimed aficionado status saying that okra doesn’t go in gumbo because it makes it slimy or messes up the consistency, here’s a history lesson.

Gumbo is often known as a standard when thinking of dishes that represent the melting-pot nature of Louisiana cooking, but the origins and evolution of the dish comes from Africa. The name “gumbo” derives from a West African word for okra, suggesting that gumbo was originally made with okra and if you travel to Africa, there are 1,000 variations of “okra stew”.

So, out of all the gumbo I tried, only a couple of them actually had okra in them and I couldn’t, in good conscious, give them a perfect score.

If you are ever interested enough in seeing more variations of gumbo than you could shake a stick at, try the annual international gumbo competition in New Iberia, Louisiana. I am told that it will change your entire attitude toward gumbo forever.