Council on Aging wins cook-off

Published 12:05 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat Natchez-Adams County Council on Aging’s Connie Thomas, right, celebrates with her teammates Latoya Jefferson and Mattie Holmes Friday afternoon after the team took home the coveted jambalaya pot trophy during the annual United Way Jambalaya Cook-Off. This year’s theme was “Salute the Troops” and some teams celebrated in patriotic costume.

NATCHEZ — Spending lunch breaks and after-work hours for the last two weeks preparing for the United Way jambalaya cook off fundraiser paid off for the Council on Aging.

The group took home first place in the booth decorating competition between the participating agencies and bragging rights for the next year after having won first place in the jambalaya competition.

“It feels wonderful for all of us,” said Connie Thomas, the event chairperson for the council. “It’s personal.”

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The event’s overall theme was “Salute the Troops,” so the council based their booth on the idea of the branches of the services. Their slogan was “An army of one branching out to serve a community.”

Mike Gemmel dressed as Gen. Douglas MacArthur for the Master Gardeners

Thomas pointed out that the group had taken the time to break up pieces of tree bark and glue it to paper to give the appearance of real trees.

They also hand-chopped nearly 30 pounds of vegetables to go with the 40 pounds of meat included in their jambalaya.

“We worked as a family, because we are a family,” Thomas said.

United Way Executive Director Tiffany Mascagni said nearly 900 people came out to enjoy the festivities, and though the donations wouldn’t be totaled until Tuesday, she’s sure they would surpass last year’s $3,145.

“This is the kick-off campaign (for fundraising season),” she said. “Now it’s time to raise the $175,000.”

United Way has set $175,000 as its goal for this year’s fundraisers, including the one it will host during the holiday season, Mascagni said.

The Adams County Master Gardeners were first-time participants this year, and though they didn’t place in the overall cook off, they did win the people’s choice award for their shrimp, sausage, converted rice and smoked paprika jambalaya.

“It’s a fun event, and it was fun to get together and decorate,” Master Gardener Elaine Gemmell said.

Lee Carby dressed in her red, white and blue best.

The group decorated its booth with flowers and a white picket fence and also displayed photos of relatives who had served in the armed forces.

Dale and Lynell Ross said they decided to attend the event, because they’re new to Natchez and thought it seemed like a great idea.

“We also saw that it’s military-themed and our son is in the Marines,” Lynell Ross said.

The Rosses said they’d been testing groups’ jambalaya, and they were glad they didn’t have to be the ones to judge.

“Each one is pretty spicy,” Dale Ross said. “It would be hard to be a judge. Everyone is participating so well.”

Mascagni said she was amazed by how well the event turned out.

“The band was incredible, and I don’t think the homemakers association (which volunteers every year) has ever worked as hard as they did this year.

“It was a huge turn out. This was one of the best-attended, most successful kick offs in history. People really came out in full support.”

Other awards:

  • The Isle of Capri team placed first for best team booth decorations.
  • The Markets placed second in the jambalaya cook off.
  • Natchez Community Hospital placed third in the jambalaya cook off.