STUTTGART — The reputation of World Championship Duck Gumbo Cook-off precedes itself after 25 crazy years.
I was walking Saturday up Main Street, near where the city had closed off the street for its annual Wings Over the Prairie Festival duck-calling championships, vendor tents and carnival. A large family was headed the other direction, having taken in the downtown fun. Appar-ently, dad was trying to use some excuse to get away for the rest of the day.
“I know what he’s going to do,” the wife said. “He’s going to go to the Duck Gumbo.” You could sense the disdain. No way is he going to the Duck Gumbo.
Last year, the Gumbo’s frivolity reached Mardi Gras proportions. One of the 48 teams entered had a “Best Body” contest. These bodies, at least the top halves of several female ones, went uncovered. Said group was asked to leave by the organizers and to not come back, I’m told.
The 25th Duck Gumbo on Saturday was much more tame. Any viewing of non-duck breasts was done undercover, if at all. There were lots of folks with Mardi Gras-style beads, though, and we noted plenty of encouragement of visual “trade” for the beads. Beer flowed more freely than the gumbo, which has been an excuse all these years to have the biggest off-campus frat party in Arkansas.
The age range attending Saturday was wide. It also seemed there were many couples around. We’re assuming the girls weren’t letting their guys go unattended, or vice versa.
It was loud. Superflux and its hot blonde lead singer, Cara Hays, roared with cover tunes all afternoon. The dance floor near the stage stayed packed.
There was plenty of eye candy, however. The women with store-bought goods paraded around proudly, and graying duck hunters eyed them eagerly. A constant line of folks paying $20 each led into the tent on the Producers Rice Mill parking lot on Park Avenue, the Gumbo’s home for the past three years after getting much too big for the old armory on 20th Street. It’s still too crowded and was way too hot Saturday.
Even actor Fred Willard was there, attending with a camera crew from the Travel Channel. EPSN2 will air a segment on it as well. The Duck Gumbo has become nationally renowned.
Around 5 p.m., the organizers announced Arrrrr Gumbo (think a pirate’s “arrrrrr”) as the cook-off winner. The group has competed for 20 years and finished second nine years ago. This year, chef Mark Wilson (who didn’t even hang around for the announcement, letting his wife stay and party while he went home to their four kids) added andouille sausage to a gumbo that already featured crawfish tails, okra and lots of fresh duck. Tim Walker, Robin Elias and others celebrated the win.
They credited a new blind judging system, rather than the political, booth-to-booth judging of the past, for making a difference. They were happy, but there was barely much disappointment among the other teams. Most, if not all, will all be back again next year, with the same reci-pes for gumbo, and probably the same fancy booths. It’s important to them to have a legitimately good gumbo, but it’s more important to have lots of fun.