HOLDEN — The aroma of boiling crawfish wafted through the air at the John Schneider Studios on April 11, as boilers from throughout the region tended their pots to benefit TARC, a regional agency based in Hammond that serves the disabled and their families.
The event, billed as “Pinching Tails for TARC,” drew a large crowd to the expansive Schneider Studio grounds. In addition to the crawfish, visitors were treated to a succession of live music performances provided by regional bands, rides in vintage wagons pulled by Clydesdale horses, various booths selling souvenirs, foods and beverages, a car show and a several stunt demonstration involving vehicles.
Kathleen Abels, executive director of TARC, welcomed 26 crawfish boiling teams who volunteered their time and talents to raise funds for the agency. Each team submitted a $100 donation to participate in the crawfish boiling contest. Visitors could pay $5 for a bracelet that entitled them to sample crawfish prepared by the various teams.
A panel of judges determined the overall winner. Additionally, those who purchased tasting bracelets could vote for their favorite crawfish samples and that winner was crowned the “People’s Choice Champion.”
Abels said the contest, enhanced by the weather on a bright, sunny, balmy Sunday, was a “blessing for TARC.”
“I am surprised and thankful for all the cooks who chose to support our event and for all the visitors who have come out on this beautiful day to help our agency,” she added. A number of individuals offered their help and support in putting this event together, and I am very grateful for their help.”
Abels said Kinion Bankston, of the Southern Boys Outdoors, and Wallace Sibley, executive director of Quad Area Veterans, assisted in working with John Schneider who offered to host the event. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser donated 2,500 pounds of crawfish through the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board for the event. Abels said others assisted in promotion and other ways. Bankston said of his group’s participation in the event, “We help others any time we can. We enjoy serving the people in our community and this was yet another chance for us to help others, … in this case, TARC.”
Over the years, traditional Louisiana crawfish boil ingredients have steadily grown from potatoes and corn to such items as garlic, celery and mushrooms. Some boilers at the cook-off added pineapple slices, cauliflower, sausages, green beans and other more exotic items to their pots. In addition, each cooking team seemed to have a special touch or a secret ingredient they claimed set their pot apart. For example, Andrew Messina and Joel Tantillo, of Sensational Crawfish of Hammond, explained that among their pot ingredients were butter and sugar. “The butter makes the crawfish peel easier,” explained Tantillo. He didn’t explain what the sugar did for the crawfish. Whatever the team put into the pot, the result was quite delectable as several tasters attested.
Jon Yeager and his wife, Mariana, accompanied by their young daughter Sara, were boiling crawfish in the name of the Hammond Kiwanis Club. Yeager, who said he has been boiling crawfish for about 25 years, explained that he puts potatoes, sausage, cocktail wieners, mushrooms, celery and corn, along with various seasonings into his pot, and then adds an orange extract to give the crawfish an, “extra special citrus flavor.”
Yeager said he enjoys cooking for a cause and considered it a privilege to assist TARC.
John Thompson and his team, the Bayou Bandits Cooking Crew from Walker, also said they were at the event to assist TARC. “Several years ago, a group of veterans, some disabled, from the Walker and Livingston areas with a mutual interest in cooking, met and decided we would cook to help others. Last year, we prepared about 4,100 meals for people in need. This is what we enjoy doing … helping others, and today’s event gave us one more opportunity to cook for a worthy cause.”
The Chuckie’s Crawfish Cookers, from Des Allemands, also drove up to participate. Greg Cortez said he has been boiling crawfish for about 30 years. “We have our style of boiling crawfish … it’s pretty much the typical way of doing it, but we know that our crawfish are always great,” he said.
After the panel of judges had sampled crawfish from all 26 cooking teams, the following winners were announced: Bayhi Shake Cooking Team, first place; Can’t Get It Rite, second place; and Louisiana Catering, third place. The Bayou Bandits Cooking Crew was chosen as the “People’s Choice Champions.”
Abels said that TARC is now serving 65 individuals with disabilities. The agency has been serving families for almost 50 years. “We have several fundraisers a year and our annual Radiothon is our largest fundraiser. This is the first year we have had a crawfish boil cook-off and it appears that this is going to be one of our most successful fundraisers for this year. We have to rely on fundraisers to keep providing the services that we do, and events such as this show us that the communities we serve appreciate what TARC has to offer. It is most gratifying to see the support that is being demonstrated by so many.”