Attendance, cooks on the rise
The mouth-watering aroma of steaming chicken andouille gumbo and jambalaya will hover in the air at the West Bank Bridge Park on Thursday.
When patrons are finally allowed inside the gates of the United Way of St. Charles’ Battle for the Paddle at 3:30 p.m., a culinary free-for-all will take place. Members of the participating teams will do all they can to entice visitors to their booths to try their delicious gumbo or jambalaya recipes.
Because while a panel of judges will pick some of the winners, everyone is gunning for the People’s Choice award.
The Battle for the Paddle has continued to grow as more participating teams drives up visitors to one of the largest yearly events in the parish.
This year, a record 80 teams have signed up to cook their own special gumbo and jambalaya recipes on-site and serve the finished product to those in attendance. Older patrons pay only $5 to eat as much as they like, while those 12 and under get into the event for free.
The recent increase in teams has correlated to a bigger audience. In 2008, a then record 74 teams signed up to cook, which brought around 1,600 people to the battle. In 2009, 77 teams signed up and nearly 2,000 people attended.
“It’s really interesting because in the last three years the number of teams and the number of attendees has steadily increased,” John Dias, executive director of the United Way of St. Charles, said. “It’s to the point now where we are wondering if we have a really big little festival on our hands or the makings of a big festival.
“The next couple of years will go a long way towards determining that.”
Dias believes the reason for the attendance figures is that the event is driven by its participants.
“We have a lot of big industry that sign up to cook as well as smaller businesses,” he said. “That’s part of the success, but the other part is that when people come to the festival they are helping people they don’t know while having fun doing so.”
Battle for the Paddle serves as the kick-off event for United Way’s fundraising campaign each year. Last year, Dias said that more than 44,000 people in St. Charles Parish benefited from one of the many organizations that the United Way supports with their donations.
“And the Battle for the Paddle gets people involved in that in a fun way,” Dias said.
While the public chows down on all the gumbo and jambalaya they want, they will be entertained by local musician Reese Chiasson. They can also try their luck in a 50/50 drawing.
Along with cooked food, which will be judged by both the public and a panel comprised of local leaders, sweets, snow balls, soft drinks and beer will be served during the event.
Teams will begin arriving to set up their tents at 8 a.m. At 11 a.m., the contestants begin cooking, and at 3:30 p.m., residents get their first chance to enter the event.
Battle for the Paddle ends at 7:30 p.m.