Our area has seen many festivals come and go. The Cajun Fest, Oyster Fest and even the Shrimp Fest are all relics of the past. Despite the fading of many events, one festival has endured over the years and is thriving!
Let’s take a trip in time…to the beginning. The year is 1973. A group of civic-minded citizens gathered in Larose and formed the Bayou Civic Club with a simple purpose – encourage, promote, advance, and conduct pleasurable, recreational, and other non-profitable activities among the members of the 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. They held a festival to help promote and achieve their goals and ultimate vision of securing grounds and constructing a multi-use facility. LCO Jr. High School’s front yard played host to the very first Bouillabaisse Festival. It was a three-day festival, which saw a queen chosen on the Friday, a bouillabaisse dress contest and talent show on Saturday and on Sunday a potato dance and Mass. A potato dance!! That first festival netted the Bayou Civic Club $15,000 and was considered a success despite the torrential rain and constant flooding over that July 1973 weekend.
In 1977 Governor Edwin W. Edwards sent out a proclamation naming Larose as the Bouillabaisse Capital of the World! In 1978, the festival moved to the area next to Holy Rosary cemetery. The festival eventually changed its name to the Larose Civic Center Fair and then changed its name again to eventually the name we know today – The French Food Festival. The dates changed too…from July to October, specifically the last full weekend in October.
Ok, back to the present. The French Food Festival is celebrating its 41st year October 23-26 and is slated to be the biggest one ever! The Festival is the lifeblood of the Larose Civic Center and Bayou Civic Club, raising nearly half of the group’s yearly operating budget in just that one weekend in October. It’s a big event for the Bayou Civic Club and eagerly anticipated by the South and Central Lafourche communities.
This massive festival takes hundreds of people working thousands of hours to plan and execute this hugely successful event, which is eagerly anticipated by old and young alike. There are only a handful of people on staff at the LCC…literally. Less than ten people run the facility year round. Phyllis Bourgeois is the kitchen manager at the LCC and has been for the past three years. She remembers the property when it was cane fields and the earlier festivals held at LCO.
She understands the invaluable contributions volunteers make to the success of the French Food Festival year after year.
“It warms my heart to see our volunteers come out and help for events,” she says. “We couldn’t do what we do here without our volunteers,” she said. “This place is a place for everyone.”
“Our volunteers are fun and the life blood of this organization! Mr. Lorimer Comeaux is 94 years old and still volunteers all while making us laugh! He’s here peeling shrimp, helping out during the weekend of the fest…we couldn’t do it without people like him, our volunteers who have been with us for years,” she Bourgeois said.
Phyllis knows the sense of community the volunteers bring to the LCC and she also knows the festival’s foods.
“600 pounds of rice, 250 crab patties, hundreds of boulets, 2,450 pounds of shrimp,” she recites the list from memory. Phyllis and her army of volunteers help to prep the tons of food used over the four-day of festival.
Under the permanent pavilion that was completed in 2010, families, actually multiple-generations of families, help to cook and serve the Cajun delicacies the festival attempts to preserve.
“The Uzee family started out at the very first festival with the gumbo booth and 41 years later, the fourth generation of Uzees are still operating the same booth,” says Jasmine Ayo, Executive Director of the Larose Civic Center. Ayo has grown up at the LCC, volunteered at the facility, was eventually employed there and willingly took the helm in 2006. “There is a lengthy waiting list to claim a booth for the festival,” she adds.
“Family. Community. Volunteers. Many of the dedicated and wonderful people in our area come together to volunteer and help is really what makes our festival the huge success that it is today,” she says. “Community participation shows just how committed everyone is to keeping our culture and the LCC alive and well today and for future generations.”
With a name like French Food Festival, you know there will be tons of food. By serving Cajun-famed foods, it ensures that our culture, customs and language is being cherished, remembered and engrained into our collective consciousness and stomachs.
Aside from the plethora of food choices and numerous carnival rides and games, there are folk-life demonstrations, crackling or “graton” making demonstrations, Les Artistes du Bayou Art Guild Art Show and Exhibit and The South Pro-Tour Bull Riding Finals. The French Food Festival has something for everyone to enjoy year after year.
The festival gets bigger and better yearly! “Every year we try to up the ante when it comes to entertainment,” adds Ayo. “This year is our third year for French Food Fest Rocks, a Thursday-night kick-off concert event. We are excited to welcome Bret Michaels as our Thursday night headliner,” she says. “Tickets and VIP packages are selling fast for Bret’s performance. This is the biggest concert event to happen on the bayou in 25 years,” she says excitedly.
There are some new firsts for the 41st annual French Food Festival. This year there are two music stages for Saturday as well as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament, amateur boxing matches and a Glow Run, a nighttime 3.1-mile run/walk that is in its second year. The Glow Run benefits a local charity or non-profit. This year’s beneficiary is the Lafourche Chamber of Commerce. “Last year we had 250 participants of all ages participating in the run...it’s truly wonderful to see multiple generations of families coming together to participate in this fun, night-time event.”
Since 1973, the French Food Festival is what keeps the LCC open and functioning. “The festival really does sustain us and is still successful even after 41 years,” she says. “It truly is the people where we live that make the difference,” she adds.
To learn more about the French Food Festival or to purchase tickets to French Food Fest Rocks with Bret Michaels, visit www.frenchfoodfest.com or call (985) 693-7355.
Posted on Fri, October 17, 2014
by Marc Kimball, Contributing Writer