Where can you get all-you-can-eat gumbo from over 20 NOLA restaurants and help out the United Way? The annual Got Gumbo? event at the Royal Sonesta in the French Quarter. With competitions for best traditional, seafood and exotic gumbos, the chefs show off their best recipes on tables decorated as parade floats complete with throws. There’s even a dessert competition.
Entering the ballroom, the aroma is intoxicating. Highlights for my tastebuds included Dickie Brennan‘s hearty andouille and crawfish ball, which garnered 2nd place for best seafood gumbo, as well as the creative take offered by Bourbon House which included a blonde roux, fresh local grown whole cherry tomatoes, Ruby Red shrimp, okra, and a dim sum bread rather than rice. The prettiest plating was definitely the Surf and Turf Gumbo from Red Fish Grill. With duck, andouille, crab claws and a jambalaya cake drizzled with garlic rouille, Red Fish Grill came in 1st for best seafood gumbo.
Black eye peas made their way into 2 bowls. Ritz-Carlton’s M Bistro took 2nd place in exotics with their hearty, smoky black eye pea, collard greens, and pulled pork gumbo with fried okra on top. And Charlie’s Seafood won 3rd place for their crab-centric seafood variety as well 1st place for best exotic with their wild boar, quail and black eye pea stew-like gumbo. Charlie’s also won the coveted audience award for best gumbo.
Though I wasn’t a huge fan of 3rd place traditional gumbo winners, Fat Hen Grocery, they had the most perfectly cooked shrimp in the house. Desire Oyster Bar had the most perfectly cooked rice and offered a scoop of crabmeat topper. Wolfe’s seafood gumbo had the most heat and I’m a fan of heat. Deanie’s dared to make my mother’s traditional gumbo – turkey and andouille. Smoky and flavorful, it was like eating a cup of memories. Congratulations also go out to J.W. Marriott for their 3rd place exotic, Royal Sonesta for their 2nd place traditional, and 5 Fifty 5 for their 1st place traditional gumbo served in a bread bowl. Royal Sonesta won best float again this year with their home court advantage and creative ideas. Best dessert went to Desire for their fresh and fabulous strawberry shortcake with crystalized mint leaf.
But, I’ve saved my best for last. Chef Raymond Signal has moved to the new Ruby Slipper in the CBD but he was there once again with his wonderful duck, andouille and oyster gumbo and his out-of-this-world duck cracklins. Still my favorite flavor in the room, Signal’s gumbo is sophisticated and humble all at once, much like the man who makes it. After sponsoring himself in the contest for years, he was sponsored by Loew’s last year before finding a home with the new Ruby Slipper location and has vowed to continue competing come what may. I look forward to many more pots of his gumbo (and bowls of his cracklins) and am thrilled to know where to try more of his creations.
Congratulations to United Way for another successful fundraiser, to all the winners (including raffle winner, Saints-superfan Whistle Monsta), but the real winners were those of us who got to eat ourselves to bursting on some of the best gumbo this city has to offer!