With purple, green and gold beads and masks strung among trees and festive booths, the Cruz Bay beachfront looked like a Mardi Gras party on Sunday afternoon, December 16.
Tourists and residents alike came out to support the Second Annual Love City Beach Bash and Jambalaya Cook-off to support the local Habitat For Humanity chapter while having some fun in the sun.
The brain-child of Dreams and Dragonflies owner Jodi Ray, the event was first held last October to support victims of Hurricane Katrina, and was revived this year due to popular demand, Ray explained.
Back by Popular Demand
“I actually hadn’t thought of doing the party again this year, but everyone kept coming by the shop and asking me when the cook-off was going to be,” said Ray.
As party-goers enjoyed tasty jambalaya, etouffee and gumbo, not to mention the popular bloody mary booth, chefs eagerly awaited news of the winning dish.
While last year’s winners Craig Sullivan and Suzanne Shlessinger — who currently offer the popular Mexican night on Tuesdays and Thursdays at The Inn at Tamarind Court — tried to reclaim their title of best Jambalaya on the beach, newcomers from Woody’s Seafood Saloon, High Tide and Patsy’s at Compass Point Marina, gave them a run for their money.
Serious Judging Time
It was all business as the four judges — St. John Tradewinds advertising manager Jani Hamilton Mooney, island newcomer Anna Spiegel, Loretto Kraft, a veteran chef who currently works at Shipwreck Landing, and yours truly — were seques-tered in an upper-floor apartment at Wharf-side Village to taste the five dishes, three of which were jambalaya concoctions.
Each of the dishes was coded so the judges did not know which booth was behind which dish.
The judges also tasted a lobster etouffee and a gumbo dish created by Hide Tide, which won their respective categories for non-jambalaya dishes.
Etouffee — which literally means cooked down according to Kraft who apprenticed at renowned Louisiana restaurant La Provence — was a succulent and light offering with large pieces of fresh lobster.
After serious consideration and discussion, the judges reached a unanimous decision and it was the “loop-de-loop” or “fish” code that was crowned the winning jambalaya of the day.
Spicy, Smokey, Juicy
Although the competition was fierce, the judges went with a traditional spicy, smokey, and juicy rendition of the dish which derived its name from “jamming everything up together,” according to Kraft.
The codes were revealed and at the end of the day top honors went to the crew from Woody’s, led by Seamus Mulcare, owner of St. John Cakes and cake baker for his wife’s enterprise Cere-monies of St. John. The first place finishers won a $100 dinner for two at The Balcony on Cruz Bay.
Second place went to last year’s winners Sullivan and Shlessinger, who took home a $50 lunch for two at The Balcony, and Patsy’s crew took third in the competition and won sunset drinks at The Balcony.
Love at First Bite
Mulcare, a chef since 1984, has been perfecting his jambalaya recipe since 1999.
“I know jambalaya because my family went to New Orleans in 1999 and I loved the dish,” said Mulcare. “I tried it everyplace I could and then when I got home I tried cooking it for myself.”
While the dish came together in about an hour on the day of the cook-off, hours of preparation went into smoking sausage and chicken legs and making his own stock.
“The best part was that it was all for a good cause,” said Mulcare.
Raffle Tickets Available
For anyone who missed the festivities, raffle tickets are available at Dreams and Dragon Flies at Wharfside Village until January 15. Tickets are $5 each or buy a book of 11 tickets for $50 for a chance to win a two-night stay at The Ritz Carlton St. Thomas, a two-night stay at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef or a two-night stay at Gallows Point Resort.
Ray was still adding up the total amount of money raised for Habitat For Humanity, but a very preliminary net gain total was around $4,500, she explain-ed. The final figure will not be determined until all of the raffle tickets are sold.
Although the talk about next year’s cook-off has already begun, Ray is enjoying some much-deserved down-time.
“A third annual party next year?” said Ray. “Everyone else seems to be expecting one, but we’ll talk about that at a later date.”