Family competition turns into a feast and a fundraiser
November 28, 2023
The warm, savory smell of gumbo greeted guests even before they stepped into the social hall at Holy Ghost Church in Omaha on a snowy Saturday afternoon.
Once inside, they picked up their tickets and score sheets and got in line as nine cooks served up samples of their prized gumbos – beloved stew-like Creole blends of chicken, sausage, vegetables and seasonings to be served over rice.
The cooks – all from a family that originated in Louisiana and spread to Omaha – had decided to settle a friendly competition and determine who in the family makes the best gumbo.
Best of all, the Flott Family Gumbo Cookoff reunited extended family and raised $1,300 for the Holy Ghost conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
About 200 people attended the Nov. 25 contest and were given nine gumbo samples to try. As zydeco music played, they tasted and re-tasted samples to determine their top three choices. A panel of official judges did the same.
Desserts and beverages also were offered.
Holy Ghost was the obvious site for the cookoff, where dozens of extended family members had worshiped and went to the former school.
“I think I made my First Communion with either four or five first cousins,” said Tom LeBlanc, one of the nine chefs at the Nov. 26 competition.
Father Phil Flott, a retired priest of the Diocese of Grand Island, is in residence at Holy Ghost and assists at the parish. He’s also part of the family.
He entered priestly life after raising a family, which included Anthony Flott, organizer of the gumbo contest and one of the competitors.
Anthony revealed a little about his gumbo recipe.
“So every gumbo starts with a roux,” he said. The roux is a mix of flour and fat that helps thicken the gumbo. Flott said he makes his in the oven instead of on a stove. “I think you can get more flavor out of doing it longer and slower.”
Another ingredient is smoked chicken.
“I think that adds a distinctive note of smokiness that makes it stand out,” Flott said.
LeBlanc also banked on smoked chicken for his gumbo, which was based on his mother’s recipe, with a few alterations.
“My mom used to cook a blond roux, which was a light roux, and I prefer a little darker,” he said. “It gives it a little bit richer, deeper flavor.
“I like to use andouille sausage,” he said, “which is a traditional southern Louisiana smoked sausage. But I also like to use smoked chicken, where a lot of people just cook their chicken in the sausage grease to brown it.”
The smoked chicken comes from the barbecue background of LeBlanc, who with his wife, Kelly, used to operate LeBlanc’s Barbecue and Cajun food truck in Omaha.
He thought his professional background and being accustomed to cooking in large batches might give him an edge. Each competitor was asked to prepare at least four gallons of gumbo.
“I doubt anyone has cooked gumbo for 100 or 200,” LeBlanc said before the contest.
But in the end, neither he nor Anthony Flott won the top spot.
Other Flotts took the honors, with Jim Flott winning the judges’ vote and Steve Flott winning the popular vote.
Even more of a hit, though, was the family fun.
“Our family’s gotten so big that we don’t always get together like this with the extended family, the second or third cousins,” Anthony Flott said. “But even with the distance between us and the line of relatives, we’re still instantly close once we see each other.”
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